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Understanding poverty


Within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the eradication of extreme poverty remains a central objective of international development efforts.

As with the Millennium Development Goals before them, the SDGs recognise that poverty has multiple dimensions and that progress is needed on a number of fronts (economic, social and political) if poverty is to be effectively tackled. Government departments, international development agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are thus expected to design policies and to plan interventions with a clear understanding of how these will contribute to poverty reduction objectives in the areas concerned.

This module is aimed at development practitioners – from government departments, international development agencies, NGOs or private business – who are involved in the design of policy or interventions to combat poverty in low- or middle-income countries. It aims to provide a sound understanding of the nature of poverty, its causes and consequences, of trends in poverty reduction across continents and regions of the world, and of debates as to the drivers of these trends.

Topics covered

  • Poverty and social norms
  • Money-metric measures of poverty
  • Multi-dimensional poverty measures
  • Poverty and economic development
  • Growth, inequality and poverty
  • Poverty dynamics
  • Social differentiation and poverty: conceptual frameworks
  • Social differentiation and poverty: gender, age and disability
  • Poverty and the environment
  • Power, politics and governance
  • Trends in monetary poverty and hunger
  • Urban poverty
  • Explaining trends in capability poverty
  • Aid and poverty reduction
  • The sustainable development goals.

Learning outcomes

By completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a rigorous and critical understanding of key concepts used in international poverty debates. This includes practical issues of measurement as well as definition.
  • Analyse both the proximate and deeper factors that trap people in poverty or assist them to escape poverty.
  • Critically assess the impact of international interventions and initiatives, such as international development assistance and the SDGs, on efforts to eradicate poverty.
  • Critically examine trends in poverty reduction in low and middle income countries, as shown by alternative poverty measures.
  • Critically examine international paradigms and architecture for poverty reduction policies.


  • a two-hour written examination worth 50%
  • a 3000-word written assignment worth 40%
  • a series of online seminar discussions worth 10%.

Essential reading

A sample of essential reading:

  • Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Ruggeri Laderchi, C., Saith, R. & Stewart, F. (2003) Does it matter that we do not agree on the definition of poverty? A comparison of four approaches. Oxford Development Studies, 31 (3), 243–274.
  • Alkire, S. & Santos, M. (2010) Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries. Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford. OPHI Working Paper, pp. 6–26, 30–35.
  • Bourguignon, F. (2004) The poverty-growth-inequality triangle. Presented at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. 4 February 2004, New Delhi. pp. 1–26.