"Poverty", as defined by the SDC, is not confined to a lack of economic resources, but also to an absence of the wider means to live in dignity. Being poor is thus multidimensional (see capability dimensions above), encompassing vulnerability and discrimination, and is as relevant in situations of humanitarian crisis and economic transition as it is in more general development discourse.
The Poverty Brief explains SDC's understanding of poverty and introduces the main concepts around this theme. The paper summarises different ways of understanding and measuring poverty ranging from absolute, income-based definitions to multi-dimensional ones. It highlights that no single correct definition of poverty exists, but that we need to include particular social, cultural and historical contexts. Therefore, policy implications differ according to how poverty is defined. Finally, effective poverty reduction measures integrate the views of people living in poverty.
Pronounced deprivation in well-being
Income or Consumption Poverty Refers to lack of monetary resources to meet needs
Absolute/Extreme Poverty Poverty below a set line of what is required to access minimum needs for survival
Relative Poverty Set in relation to others
Recognises the many different ways in which people can be deprived
Transiently Poor People who move in and out of poverty
Chronically Poor People who are poor for years at a time, or even their whole lives
Source: Poverty and Inequality, GSDRC Topic Guide, June 2016
The SDC understands poverty as a multidimensional concept.
Globally, 821 million people are undernourished. This means that one in nine people suffer from hunger and are not able to consume sufficient food to conduct an active and healthy life. (Source:
SDG 2)3 in 10 people around the globe lacked access to safely managed drinking water services and 2.4 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation with about 892 million people defacating in the open. (Source:
617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. 750 million adults still remain illiterate, of which two thirds are women. (Source:
Around 4 billion people do not use the Internet and 90 per cent of them are from the developing world. (Source:
SDG 17) Globally, women's participation in single or lower houses of national parliaments stood at 24.2 per cent on average as at January 2019. Source:
Hence, while extreme poverty is reducing, relative poverty (see
SDG 1.2 and
SDG 10) is increasing globally.To access the World Bank Data base on poverty, click
The SDC: The Common Understanding
Poverty means discrimination, obstacles, and exclusion in satisfying the basic necessities of life; in the use and development of an individual’s physical and human potential, capacities, and creativity; in seizing the opportunities and choices for fashioning a fulfilling and dignified life; in the realisation of one’s aspirations; from participating in the formulation and decision-making stages of the social, political, and economic transformation processes.
Wellbeing implies being able to ensure one’s own subsistence in dignified conditions, with the ability to ensure one’s livelihood thanks to one’s own work; being an equal-footed and responsible member in the social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of society; having equal access to resources, information, services, institutions, and decision-making structures; being protected from violence and arbitrariness; being able to count on assistance, security nets, and solidarity in the event of crises and disasters; enjoying a positive outlook towards the future for oneself and for the coming generations.
Creating the Prospect of Living a Life in Dignity: Principles guiding the SDC in its commitment to fighting povertyBarbara del Pozo, SDC, 2004
The most recent SDC guidelines setting the framework for the agency’s approach to fighting poverty were published in 2004. They remain pertinent to this day.
Creating the Prospect of Living a Life in Dignity (PDF, 205 KB)
People-Centered Approach to Poverty Reduction
This understanding of poverty is based on concrete experience and is a basis for a people-centered approach to poverty reduction. It integrates the main issues of concern in the different departments of the SDC, notably:
• Social inclusion in Eastern countries in political and economic transition
• Protection and reconstruction for vulnerable women, men and children as part of humanitarian aid• Globalisation that favours sustainable development, poverty reduction and social equity
• Poverty reduction in south cooperation
The SDC: The 10 Sub-Objectives of the Dispatch on Switzerland's Strategy for International Cooperation 2021–2024
The following are the 10 sub-objectives of the Strategy for International Cooperation:
OECD: The Development Assistance Committee's (DAC) Definition of Poverty
The SDC understands poverty as a multifaceted phenomenon that touches all aspects of life, undermining human dignity and well-being. As a member of the
Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the SDC subscribes to the DAC definition of poverty encompassing five inter-linking dimensions, with gender as a transversal issue since globally, women are more likely to experience poverty than men. The five dimensions of poverty are: economic, human, political, socio-cultural and protective – as shown in DAC's multidimensional poverty framework below.
What is Poverty?The widening meaning of poverty. The concept of poverty includes different dimensions of deprivation. In general, it is the inability of people to meet economic, social and other standards of well-being. The multidimensionality of poverty is now widely accepted. It is based solidly on research that includes major participatory studies of what poor people mean by poverty.
Defining Poverty: The Core DimensionsAn adequate concept of poverty should include all the most important areas in which people of either gender are deprived and perceived as incapacitated in different societies and local contexts. It should encompass the causal links between the core dimensions of poverty and the central importance of gender and environmentally sustainable development.• Economic capabilities mean the ability to earn an income, to consume and to have assets, access to productive resources: land, animals, forests and decent employment.
• Human capabilities are based on health, education, nutrition, clean water and shelter.• Political capabilities include human rights, a voice and some influence over public policies and political priorities. Powerlessness aggravates other dimensions of poverty.
• Socio-cultural capabilities concern the ability to participate as a valued member of a community. They refer to social status, dignity and other conditions for belonging to a society which are highly valued by the poor themselves. Social isolation is the main meaning of poverty for people in many societies.• Protective capabilities enable people to withstand economic and external shocks. Insecurity and vulnerability are crucial dimensions of poverty with strong links to all other dimensions. To a large extent, poverty is experienced intermittently in response to seasonal variations and external shocks – natural disasters, economic crises and violent conflicts. Dynamic concepts are needed because people move in and out of poverty.
DAC's Multidimensional Poverty Framework
"An adequate concept of poverty should include all the most important areas in whichpeople of either gender are deprived and perceived as incapacitated in different societiesand local contexts. It should encompass the causal links between the core dimensions ofpoverty and the central importance of gender and environmentally sustainable development"(DAC Guidelines: Poverty Reduction, p. 38).
DAC Guidelines: Poverty Reduction
Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: International Participatory Research
ATD Fourth World and the University of Oxford, 2019
To learn more about the nine hidden dimensions of poverty, take a closer look here.
DAC Guidelines on Poverty Reduction
Executive Summary: In the Face of Poverty, Meeting the global challenge through partnership (PDF, 493 KB)
DAC Guidelines on Poverty Reduction (PDF, 800 KB)
United Nations' Definition of Poverty
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 clothe 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.
Statement of commitment for action to eradicate poverty adopted by administrative committee on coordination
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), May 20, 1998http://www.unesco.org/most/acc4pov.htm
United Nations Development Programme: 2019 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)
The 2019 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) data and publication 'Illuminating Inequalities' released on 11 July 2019 shed light on the number of people experiencing poverty at regional, national and subnational levels, and reveal inequalities across countries and among the poor themselves.
The World Bank's Policy on Poverty Reduction
The Bank's mission is sustainable poverty reduction. Poverty encompasses lack of opportunities (including capabilities), lack of voice and representation, and vulnerability to shocks. The Bank's support for poverty reduction is focused on actions, consistent with its mandate, to increase opportunity, enhance empowerment, and strengthen security. Within this broad framework, a critical priority is promoting broad based growth, given its proven importance in reducing poverty. For more information, click here»