Absolute poverty is a relative term which describes the condition of a section of the population when compared to the majority. What constitutes absolute poverty may vary from generation to generation as the conditions for a minimum level of subsistence changes. For instance it may be determined that anyone who does not own a TV or a fridge in this day and age is absolutely poor. A hundred years ago absolute poverty in developed countries might have meant living below starvation levels. It is unusual for such a condition to exist now in the west. Even the destitute and homeless can often beg enough to feed themselves and keep themselves alive. Starvation from poverty may be unusual but it is still not completely eradicated, particularly in some countries in the Third World, where corrupt government, war, or unfavourable weather conditions result in interrupted food supply.
Some people regard themselves as poor even when they have everything they need to sustain themselves, somewhere to live and enough food to eat. Others might think this category of social class as being well off as long as they can survive. But others insist on a much higher benchmark. If people are unable to enjoy a healthy social life, do not work, cannot afford the technological advances in communication, then they are effectively poor. Poverty includes some sense of being disadvantaged and being almost eliminated from the decisionmaking processes of the state. A poor education means it is difficult for some people to understand complex political situations, and if education is dependent on private funding, then those who are deemed as poor will also end up ill-educated. Similarly with health. The debate is going on in the US at the moment with regard to the extent to which a public health system should support those who have no money.
It is hard to imagine a time when absolute poverty can be completely eradicated, since the economic system we have set up and live by is predicated on winners and losers. In a competitive economy there will always be businesses going bankrupt and people being made redundant as we trundle through the various cycles of prosperity and recession. The question always gives rise to emotional debate as there are those, generally on the right, who view poverty as a necessary side effect of a dynamic economy, and those on the left who see it as an issue which needs to be addressed. The debate is often crystallised by questions of public spending. Is it the responsibility of the state to support those who fall through the net or is it up to the individual to pull himself up “by his own boot-straps”?
The right wing solution is a concept known as “trickle down” which states that a growing, prosperous economy will sooner or later enrich everyone regardless of status. This however backfires in times of recession, since very often it is the least well off who suffer the most when the going gets tough. Absolute poverty will not go away, but the way we deal with it may change as governments find more sophisticated methods of creating wealth.