Understanding Poverty (30 credits)

Key information

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy

Module overview

The first two targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are as follows:

1.1 “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere …”, measured as people living below the so-called international (consumption) poverty line;

1.2 “By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.”

Furthermore, throughout the SDGs there is a concern to ensure that “no one is left behind”. As efforts are made to enhance human health, provide quality education, clean water and sanitation, generate decent work through economic growth and so on, this mantra emphasises the need to tackle inequality in both opportunities and outcomes.

This module is aimed at (current or future) 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 low and middle income countries, and of debates as to the drivers of these trends.

The module encompasses economic, social and political perspectives and examines the interaction of diverse factors in producing and reproducing poverty. There is an emphasis within the module on assisting students to gain a rigorous and critical understanding of key concepts used in international poverty debates, and on showing how the definitions of poverty that we use affect our findings regarding both poverty incidence and poverty trends, and hence also the policies prescribed to tackle poverty.

Given the emphasis on measuring poverty, as well as defining it, within some units of the module, a basic level of numeracy (and readiness to think about numbers) is required for full engagement with the module materials.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • 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 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.


Students are advised to dedicate 10 - 15 hours study time per week for this module.

Scope and syllabus

The module will comprise 15 units (Please note that this is an indicative syllabus):

  1. Conceptualising Poverty
  2. Measures of Monetary Poverty
  3. Multi-Dimensional Poverty Measures
  4. Growth and Poverty Reduction
  5. Inequality, Growth and Poverty
  6. Poverty Dynamics
  7. Social Differentiation and Poverty
  8. Gender and Poverty
  9. Trends in Monetary Poverty and Malnutrition
  10. Poverty and the Environment
  11. Urban Poverty
  12. Tackling Capability Poverty
  13. Power, Politics and Governance
  14. Minerals and Aid
  15. The Sustainable Development Goals

Suggested reading

  • Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion. Oxford, Oxford University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules