Defining child poverty in South Africa using the socially perceived necessities approach

Poverty and Inequality

This paper describes an approach to defining child poverty in South Africa using a socially perceived necessities method which was conceived in Britain in the mid 1980s and subsequently developed. This approach, when applied to the measurement of child poverty, involves asking a representative sample of the (usually adult) population to state which of a list of items is essential for children to have an acceptable standard of living. It is then possible to measure in a survey how many children do not have the items defined as essential and can therefore be considered poor.

The paper begins with a discussion of general issues relevant to poverty definition, and describes the socially perceived necessities approach. A justification for the involvement of children in defining poverty, alongside adults, is put forward and the methodology used to do so in South Africa is described.

The definition derived from a survey module asking adults for their views on an acceptable standard of living is presented and compared to the views of children derived from focus group work. The paper concludes with a discussion of some of the challenges of applying this approach to a developing country context, particularly South Africa where the legacy of apartheid brings unique challenges. Both challenges in the definition process (by adults and children) and in the subsequent measurement of child poverty (not covered in this paper) are discussed.

Keywords: poverty, multi-dimensional, child, socially perceived necessities, South Africa

Originally published by Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

A longer report on Child Poverty in South Africa: A Socially Perceived Necessities Approac is also available on CASASP Website.


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