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Mon Jul 8, 2013, 01:11 PM

Prejudice against the poor

Prejudice against the poor

Published: Monday, July 8, 2013


Last week a headline read: “Poverty is not a major factor in cause of crime.” For the author, crime was simply a matter of personal choice. Such logic is seductive and piggybacks on the US ideology of individual economic responsibility. Poverty becomes something one chooses to move from or not. In such a world, failure to achieve is viewed as the responsibility of the individual.

This is poverty as moral failure and justifies for many any personal prejudice against the poor, including the nonsense that poverty does not impact crime. Such ideas about poverty are often based on personal stories about people who rose up and broke out of poverty. Anecdote is not good science; it’s more like myth-making. Anthropological research into poverty highlights a diversity of experiences among people classified as poor—including great resilience by those who do not escape it.

And while there is certainly academic debate about whether poverty causes crime, it has been proven that many conditions inherent in poverty are risk factors for criminal behaviour. Anthropologists do not document poverty as an economic condition to be measured. Rather they describe poverty as a qualitative social relation of multi-dimensional deprivation. That means poverty affects the quality of a person’s life not just in terms of income but rights, opportunities, capabilities and entitlements.

Yes, poverty doesn’t affect every person in exactly the same way but poverty does impact every person’s ability to achieve his or her full human potential and the World Bank’s 2001 report on poverty said just that.


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