Poverty as a social problem is a deeply rooted in every dimension of culture and society. It includes sustained low levels of income for members of a community. It includes a lack of access to services like education, markets, health care, lack of decision making ability, and lack of communal facilities like water, sanitation, roads, transportation, and communications. Furthermore, it is a poverty of spirit that allows members of that community to believe in and share despair, hopelessness, apathy, and timidity. Poverty, especially the factors that contribute to it, is a social problem.
Gillin and Gillin defines “Poverty is that condition in which a person either because of inadequate income or unwise expenditure does not maintain a scale of living high enough to provide for physical and mental efficiency and to enable him and his natural dependents to function usefully according to the standards of society of which he is a member.” Thus poverty is a condition of extremely lower standard of living. In it even the necessary wants are not fulfilled.
In the opinion of Galbraith (1958), people are poverty stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls, markedly behind that of community. Then they can not have what the larger community regards as minimum necessary for decency and they can not wholly escape, therefore, the judgment of the larger community that they are indecent. They are degraded for, in the literal sense, they live outside the grades or categories which the community regards as the acceptable.
India in the first decade of the new millennium is in the enviable position of maintaining high levels of economic growth. Still it continues to be home to millions and millions of poor people, women, men, youth, and children-who suffer high levels of malnutrition and hunger. Poverty in India is still rampant despite an impressive economic growth. An estimated 250 million people are below the poverty line and approximately 75 per cent of them are in the rural areas. In general, poverty can be defined as a situation when people are unable to satisfy the basic needs of life. The definition and methods of measuring poverty differs from country to country. According to the definition by Planning Commission of India, poverty line is drawn with an intake of 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. If a person is unable to get that much minimum level of calories, then he/she is considered as being below poverty line.
Shifting the traditional base of fundamental needs & income, the modern definition of poverty is based ‘lack of opportunities’. According to the modern connotation, poverty does not merely mean lack of adequate income or inability to meet basic human needs. Some people do have a potential to cross the borders of poverty. They have good health and can live a productive life. But then, they are deprived of suitable opportunities. The tacit denial of opportunities pushes them into unemployment – resulting in loss of income and finally inability to meet the basic human needs. The lack of opportunity forbids an individual to insulate him/ her from insecurity. To be deprived of opportunities, security is to remain in poverty. This is the third way of defining poverty. Mere inadequate income does not adequately describe poverty. A lack of opportunity in economic/ political life is the root cause of poverty; and therefore, should not be neglected while defining poverty.
Prof. Amartya Sen’s concept of poverty covers all the three elements. Poverty means an inability to obtain the human right to health and education. It includes right to earn income also. This inability finally leads to the doubt about his/her survival itself. If we try to understand the concept of poverty in such wide connotation, it helps us reach the solution to the problem of poverty – by effectively integrating human organization and public policy with poverty. Poverty can also be considered as an important factor impacting the economic development of a country. Economic development has also failed to contain poverty and has defied its accurate measurement. It is really very difficult to concentrate on the needs of the poor. The most important factor is the long period over which people continue to remain poor and the intensity of poverty. This has crossed the normal limits of visible and invisible factors like land, debts, health, literacy, etc. which are generally used for depicting poverty. According to Prof. Sen, ‘Poverty is a kind of snatching something fundamental from somebody.’ Once some fundamental things are snatched, income of a person naturally goes down and then he/she is driven into poverty.