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Poverty As An Ideal, Changing Conceptions Of Poverty, The Problem Of The Poor, Relativism And Equality

As an idea, poverty has had an eventful history. From roughly the eighteenth century onward, a change in moral sensibility caused a shift in the understanding of poverty as being an ideal state (for both individuals and communities) to being an execrable condition that societies should seek to ameliorate. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with the growth of social welfare programs, intense academic debate has focused on the meaning and definition of the term. These debates, though they now dominate the discussion of poverty, nevertheless echo earlier discussion surrounding poor laws and social administration. This article will chart the development in sensibilities and attendant evaluations and then consider how the "problem of poverty" was framed and how it has manifested itself in contemporary debates.

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