The consensual or ‘perceived deprivation’ approach to measuring poverty uses direct measures of living standards rather than indirect income measures. In this approach, deprivation is seen in terms of an enforced lack of ‘necessities’ as determined by public opinion.
The 1983 Breadline Britain study pioneered this ‘consensual’ approach to measuring poverty by investigating, the public’s perceptions of minimum needs:
This study tackles the question ‘how poor is too poor?’ by identifying the minimum acceptable way of life for Britain in the 1980s. Those who have no choice but to fall below this minimum level can be said to be ‘in poverty’. This concept is developed in terms of those who have an enforced lack of socially perceived necessities. This means that the ‘necessities’ of life are identified by public opinion and not by, on the one hand, the views of experts or, on the other hand, the norms of behaviour per se.
(Mack and Lansley, 1985)
The ‘consensual’ approach helps to separate choice from constraint in people’s living standards, only those who do not have necessities due to a lack of income and resources are considered to be deprived. This approach provides direct measures of deprivation and enables the extent of deprivation among different groups in Hong Kong society to be examined. Poverty occurs where these deprivations impact on a person’s whole way of life.
In the consensual approach, the first step is to test various items from a wide range of aspects that make up our standard of living to see which items most people see to be ‘necessities’ – something which everyone should be able to afford and which no one should have to do without. The items tested cover both material and social aspects of life, including food, clothing, health, housing, household goods, personal possessions, relations with family and friends, social and leisure activities, savings and financial security.
Having identified publicly perceived necessities, the consensual method proceeds to find out who lacks these necessities through a large-scale survey of living standards. In this approach, individual lifestyle choices are allowed for by asking people whether they lack necessities because they can’t afford them or whether they lack the necessities from choice. Those who go without necessities because they can’t afford them are seen as having an ‘enforced lack of necessities’. From this you can examine the living standards for all groups in society in terms of their ‘enforced lack of necessities’. This provides a comprehensive measure of relative deprivation – the more necessities a household is forced to do without, the more they are deprived.
The consensual method uses both a lack of consensually agreed necessities and a low income to identify a group who are living below acceptable standards. An examination of those within this ‘poor’ group finds that these households are suffering multiple deprivation, which affects their whole way of life – they can be seen to be living in ‘poverty’.
Poverty in Hong Kong using a deprivation approach was developed in three previous surveys:
- Poverty in an Affluent City: A Report of a Survey on Low Income Families in Hong Kong (Chow, 1982 )
- Poverty and Social Exclusion in Hong Kong (Lau, 2005)
- Report of Research Study on Deprivation and Social Exclusion in Hong Kong (HKCSS, 2012)
The Poverty and Social Exclusion in Hong Kong research will further extend this work through a survey during 2012 which will re-interview some of the respondents who took part in the HKCSS survey in 2011.