Absolute poverty is in relation to a threshold that establishes a minimum level of the necessities of life, an adequate standard of living, or where the minimum standards of food, clothing or shelter are met. This can be called living on the edge of ability to survive.
In comparison, relative poverty is based on having to spend more income than is available in order to meet the standard or customary living in a society. This can be a very luxurious level as it is tied to spending rather than subsistence, so that a very prosperous society can have very high custom or standards.
In monetary terms, 1 international dollar a day is often used as the threshold. At that threshold, there might be hundreds of millions, but at 2 dollars a day, there might be several billion living in absolute poverty.
There are many standards and definitions of poverty in general, but absolute poverty is one which is fairly clear: below the absolute poverty line, life is in jeopardy, not for the current generation but for generations to come. Conditions are of hardship exist that are morally, physically and socially unacceptable, regardless of the society.
There are differing areas of interest in defining poverty, including areas of hardship in material needs, economic conditions, and social position. As a result, poverty measures can include quality of drinking water and sanitation, slavery and oppression, lack of education, segregation based on race, caste or class, and other issues that go beyond the paycheck or the food basket.
In material needs, there are thresholds of absolute poverty where life is lived on the very line of existence. In parts of the world, there are natural environments that are barely able to sustain human life, yet people manage to thrive there on levels that they do not consider to be impoverished. They manage to obtain the clothing, food, clean water and sanitation to survive with minimal impact on the environment. In other areas, the environment has been damaged to the point where natural survival based on indigenous knowledge is impossible. The habitat for food animals and plants is compromised to the point where humans cannot thrive without artificial support.
In economic conditions, the principles of distribution of wealth apply. There are far too many situations where the humans are forced to do labor with little or no economic gain or independence, with oppressive and abusive conditions of slavery as the rock bottom threshold. Meanwhile, those who profit from the labor have the bulk of the wealth that is not ever redistributed for the well being of the society.
In social position, the principles of opportunity apply. When generations of a class based society are restricted from voting, living independently, having access to training and education or property ownership, or are restricted from making the income required to subsist, then unequal opportunity, oppression, racism, class structures, and other social position issues contribute to the bottom line in absolute poverty.
There are classes of people who are either retired from the social systems, are jobless, imprisoned, are in the military, are elderly, are children or are physically and mentally ill or are unwilling or incapable of working in the general society. These individuals operate either as dependents of the system or outside of the system of society.
The illegal drug society, from the street dealers and users to the major cartel leadership and private prison industries, operate both outside of the law or coerces the law through bribery, influence or corruption. This “underground” economy creates the same conditions as the standard economy, with added issues of material, economic and social needs that create an entirely new paradigm that financially either rivals or contributes to the treasuries and problems of entire nations.
In summary, absolute poverty could be defined as the absolute threshold of human needs for survival that goes beyond the food basket and income to a range of material, social and economic needs and conditions. Absolute poverty can be seen as conditions that all people and all nations can agree upon as morally and socially unacceptable.
Social Policy, “Social Need”
The Copenhagen Declaration On Social Development