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:

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.

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