Who Are The Poor?

You would have noticed that in all localities and neighbourhoods, both in rural and urban areas, there are some of us who are poor and some who are rich. There are also people who belong to the many stages in between. Push cart vendors, street cobblers, women who string flowers, rag pickers, vendors and beggars are some examples of poor and vulnerable groups in urban areas.The poor people possess few assets and reside in kutcha hutments with walls made of baked mud and roofs made of grass, thatch, bamboo and wood. The poorest of them do not even have such dwellings. In rural areas many of them are landless. Even if some of them possess land, it is only dry or waste land. Many do not get to have even two meals a day. Starvation and hunger are the key features of the poorest households. The poor lack basic literacy and skills and hence have very limited economic opportunities. Poor people also face unstable employment.

Malnutrition is alarmingly high among the poor. Ill health, disability or serious illness makes them physically weak. They borrow from money lenders who charge high rates of interest that lead them into chronic indebtedness. The poor are highly vulnerable.

They are not able to negotiate their legal wages from employers and are exploited. Most poor households have no access to electricity. Their primary cooking fuel is firewood and cow dung cake. A large section of poor people do not even have access to safe drinking water. There is evidence of extreme gender inequality in the participation of gainful employment, education and in decision-making within the family. Poor women receive less care on their way to motherhood. Their children are less likely to survive or be born healthy.

Scholars identify the poor on the basis of their occupation and ownership of assets. They state that the rural poor
work mainly as landless agricultural labourers, cultivators with very small landholdings, landless labourers who are engaged in a variety of non-agricultural jobs and tenant cultivators with small land holdings. The urban poor are largely the overflow of the rural poor who had migrated to urban areas in search of alternative employment and livelihood, labourers who do a variety of casual jobs and the self-emloyed who sell a variety of things on roadsides and are engaged in various activities.


Accoding to MDGs, people who earn less than $1.25 a day are below the poverty line. The global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate. However, projections indicate that in 2015 almost one billion people will still be living on less than $1.25 per day.The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.


Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and cloth a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation”. After the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, 117 countries adopted a declaration and programme of action which included commitments to eradicate “absolute” and reduce “overall” poverty. Absolute poverty was defined as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.

Overall poverty takes various forms, including “lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by lack of participation in decisionmaking and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets. (UN, 1995)


Accoding to ADB, people who earn less than $1.35 a day are below the poverty line. Ths poverty lines is based on purchasing-power parity (the comparative cost of similar goods in different countries).


The Tendulkar Committee had been set up after the March 2009 National Development Council meeting, to look into the methodology for estimating poverty, because there was widespread criticism that the Planning Commission was producing unrealistically low poverty estimates. The Committee retained the existing grossly unrealistic urban poverty line of Rs 18 per day (by taking the mixed-recall-period it is raised by Re1 per day but this does not affect nutrition since the extra spending is on non-food items). It betrays the interests of the Indian people by explicitly justifying the lowering of the urban nutrition standard to 1795 calories actually obtainable at this poverty line, from the earlier 2100 calories norm, saying that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared below 1800 calories to be an adequate norm for India. The Tendulkar Committee raised the poverty line for rural India from just below Rs 12 per day to Rs13.8 per day on a comparable basis to the earlier poverty lines (on mixed recall basis it is raised by a further Re1 per day but this is not relevant for the nutrition standard since it is the extra recorded spending on non-food items).

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