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Despite many decades of feminist research, it is still not possible to obtain a full picture of women's levels of economic well-being. Throughout the twentieth century feminists drew attention to the large and persistent gap between men's and women's average incomes from paid work. More specifically, feminist research provided information from the 1980s onwards about women and poverty (Millar and Glendinning 1987), including the poverty and economic inequality experienced by women within heterosexual partnerships (Pahl 1980, Vogler 1989, Vogler and Pahl 1993), the effects of poverty on women's health (Payne 1991, Graham 1993) and the feminisation of poverty (Scott 1984). However, researchers have pointed out that they have been and continue to be hampered by a shortage of useful and reliable national and international data on women's economic position (Payne 1991:46, Graham 1993:17). This is to a large extent because of major deficiencies in the ways in which data on poverty and inequality have been conceptualised and gathered by governments and international organisations.

Well-established ways of conceptualising and measuring poverty, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), have been strongly criticised for their narrowness (their primary focus on market income, production and consumption) and the difficulties of making meaningful comparisons between the richer OECD nations and countries with very low GDP. In particular, some critics of these measures of poverty focus on their gender blindness (Waring 1989). Because these conventional measures of poverty and inequality focus on market-based activities, whereas much of women's work continues to be unpaid, such measures provide at best only a partial picture of women's economic situation.

In the 1990s, partly as a response to some of the inadequacies of established conceptualisations and indicators, there was a growth in the number and type of ways of understanding and measuring poverty, inequality and well-being. In this paper I briefly look at Genuine Progress Indicators, the United Nations Human Development Index and the concepts of social exclusion, time-poverty and health variations. Some of these have already been adopted by governments to varying extents, whilst others have so far been used primarily by critics wishing to illustrate the deficiencies in existing ways of looking at poverty, inequality and well-being. What the newer measures have in common is that they not only measure income or market production and consumption, but also look at a wide variety of indices such as mortality, health, leisure, opportunities, the environment and participation in social life.

This paper examines the extent to which both established and newer conceptualisations and measures of poverty, inequality and well-being are capable of taking greater account of women's material situation.


The most commonly used indicators of the wealth of nations have been per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, to a lesser extent, Gross National Product (GNP). GDP, the more commonly used measure, is defined as the monetary value of final goods and services provided in a country. GNP is defined as the total value of wages, rents, interest and profits of a nation's residents (Hamilton 1997). The difference between them is that GNP includes interest from overseas investments and excludes dividends paid to foreign capital. Usually it is assumed that growth in GDP and/or GNP (also known as economic growth) results in improvements in well-being. Seldom is this assumption challenged. It is often assumed that if a country slips in its rate of GNP per capita, its residents must be becoming poorer or worse off compared with those in countries that can boast faster economic growth.

In fact, however, economic growth can be occurring in terms of per capita GNP and/or GDP, whilst at the same time people are becoming worse off. This is partly because of what GNP and GDP actually measure, as Waring (1989) has pointed out. The current concept of economic growth gives value to disasters (or at least the clean-up operations), arms production and wars, environmental pollution and any market-based work. It accords no value to clean air and water, native flora or fauna, or indeed to any non-market activity, including essential work like bearing and raising children and household work. In 1993 the United Nations Commission, which is responsible for the System of National Accounts, recommended that the value of goods produced by households, including for their own consumption, be included in GDP. However, the value of services produced in households for use by household members, such as childcare and cooking (work done chiefly by women) is still not included in the main accounts (Fleming and Spellerberg 1999:9).

The use of GDP and GNP becomes especially problematic in countries where inequality is increasing, and where there are significant numbers of people at the extremes of wealth and poverty. This is because GNP and GDP provide measures of averaged data and so are unable to capture income inequality. In New Zealand, between 1984 and 1998, the richest 10 per cent of the population became substantially better off, whilst the majority became poorer, and those on the lowest incomes became substantially worse off (Podder and Chatterjee 1998). Women have long been the majority of those on low incomes, and in recent years structural adjustment policies world-wide have been increasing women's poverty relative to men's and increasing the amount of unpaid work performed by women (Sparr 1994:21-8). The use of GDP and GNP as measures serves to disguise this transfer of income away from poor women. As a result of shortcomings of this kind, GDP and GNP as measures have been increasingly criticised and there has been a search for more useful and sensitive measures of the wealth of nations.


Like the conventional measures described above, Genuine Progress Indicators (GPIs) aim to measure the economic progress of nations or their decline over time. However, in other respects they differ sharply from GDP and GNP.

GPIs have been developed by alternative economists in the USA (Daly and Cobb 1990), the UK (Jackson and Marks 1994) and Australia (Hamilton 1997). Their main aim is to question the value base of the conventional measures used by governments, and in particular GNP and GDP. The underlying assumptions of GPIs are at variance with those of conventional measurements. According to Hamilton (1997:2), "They are based on the assumption that we live in a society rather than an economy; and further that society is embedded in and depends on the natural environment".

GPIs include items which GDP and GNP leave out, such as the value of unpaid work in the home and community (Hamilton 1997:8). In addition, GPIs include a debit account for "bads" such as crime, unemployment, environmental pollution and "defensive spending" (for example on extra policing, burglar alarms, vitamins and health care) which conventional measures do not. The concept of sustainability is also central to GPIs, so that whilst some increases in consumption are regarded as good, environmental costs (for example the costs of commuting) are debited. Like GDP and GNP, however, GPIs do not measure inequalities such as the difference between women's and men's earnings known as the "gender pay gap". It is not their role to measure inequality within nations (although the existence and consequences of inequality, captured by other measures, may be used in the debit accounts of GPIs). However, because GPIs place value on non-market contributions to the national well-being, they are more likely to lead to a valuing of unpaid household work, around 70 per cent of which is performed by women (Bittman 1991:32).

Nonetheless, systems of accounting, even alternative systems, which measure the economic well-being of whole nations, fail to capture gender inequality. Therefore it is necessary to look at ways of conceptualising and measuring poverty, inequality and well-being within nations, and which can also be used as a basis for comparison between nations. The most accessible of these is measurement of incomes.


How well do measurements of income provide an accurate picture of women's poverty, inequality and well-being? The answer seems to be that, in the OECD nations at least, it is probably the most accurate way of measuring poverty and inequality and one of the best predictors of other aspects of well-being such as health. Measuring incomes is vital because most women (and men) in the OECD nations do not usually have access to land and capital, and so are reliant on a cash income to cover basic needs such as food, clothing and housing.

Measuring income poverty in a meaningful way, even within the richer nations, is nevertheless still problematic. This is partly because people with the same income often have very different financial outgoings. For example, housing costs vary between areas and between individuals, depending on family size and whether that family is renting, paying a mortgage or owns their home freehold. Single mothers are particularly likely to be poor, partly because they require the use of an entire house, but are less likely than couples or widows to own their home freehold, and they generally have only one income from which to pay all the housing costs. Childcare costs generally also come out of mothers' incomes, even when the women are partnered, despite the fact that women's incomes are usually lower than those of male partners.

The gender-sensitivity of the measurement of incomes is variable. The overall effect of this variability is to understate the extent of women's poverty. For example, it is possible to obtain a relatively clear picture of the material standard of living of women raising children alone on state welfare benefits, since most benefits are income tested, and beneficiaries also provide information about their major expenses such as rent and their dependants. There is plenty of evidence that lone mothers on benefits are poor (Millar 1992, Edin and Lein 1997)(2). However, there is still little information collected (apart from mainly small-scale research projects) about the personal incomes of partnered women, especially those who are unemployed or out of the paid labour force.

In fact, large-scale collection of data on women's personal disposable incomes seldom occurs, because of the persistent assumption that women receive a full share of household income. For example, the incomes of couples and/or households have continued to be aggregated by governments in studies such as the Household Labour Force Survey and in the research design of major international studies such as the Luxembourg Income Study. This is despite the fact that feminist researchers have demonstrated that intrahousehold distribution of income is frequently inequitable and that some women living in relationships with high-income earners are nevertheless extremely poor (Vogler 1989, Vogler and Pahl 1983).

Even when fairly comprehensive data is collected on the differences between men and women's incomes, the information derived is frequently made available in ways that tend to downplay the gender difference in pay. For example, the statistics most often quoted on the gap between male and female earnings are those pertaining to the difference in hourly rates. In most of the English-speaking nations women receive around 20 per cent less pay per hour than men (Briar 1994)(3). However, because women in most nations have shorter hours of paid work than men and also tend to have the most insecure employment, the gap between women and men's weekly and annual incomes is much wider than the gap in hourly rates. Further, it is weekly and annual incomes that are more likely to determine women's standard of living.

The collection of data on incomes, despite flaws in the manner it is collected, remains potentially one of the most useful ways of studying the extent of women's poverty, and the degree of inequality between women and men within a country. Examining incomes can also be a simple and useful way of comparing the amount of poverty amongst women between as well as within the relatively wealthy OECD countries. There are numerous ways of defining low incomes (Dex et al. 1994) and there is not the space to consider them all here. However, a commonly used indicator of poverty in comparative social policy is less than 50 per cent of (equivalised) average (median) income, although in New Zealand, where average incomes are low, the figure of 60 per cent is sometimes used (Waldegrave et al. 1999).

However, in Asia, Africa and Latin America a poverty line is set at $1 a day (United Nations 1995), and in these circumstances it is difficult to make meaningful international comparisons between women in the richer OECD nations and those in poorer countries. It is for this reason that we now turn to a consideration of indicators that include other measures of poverty, inequality and well-being than only income.


The United Nations (UN) was previously responsible for a system of national accounts that measured only market activities: the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSNA). However, the UN now argues that existing measures of poverty place too much emphasis on income. During the 1990s, when the UN had a major focus on poverty, it developed a Human Development Index (HDI). According to this index, poverty is defined as a lack of choices and opportunities for a tolerable life. The UN argues, in the context of this index, that poverty has several dimensions: short life, illiteracy, exclusion and lack of access to public and private resources. Respect and social standing are also part of the HDI (United Nations Development Project 1997:5). Arguably, income is less relevant if someone has access to clean water, land, seeds, housing materials and a close community with a rich cultural life. According to the HDI, poverty exists when these are lacking.

The HDI contains a Human Poverty Index (HPI). The HPI for developing countries uses three indicators of deprivation: mortality (short life span), illiteracy and a composite index of access to health services (including safe water, and malnutrition among children under five). The data within this index is not disaggregated by gender (Fakuda-Parr 1999, Durbin 1999), but Elizabeth Durbin (1999:106-107) argues that the HPI could be made gender-sensitive and thus able to reflect women's poverty. Many of the social statistics that would facilitate such an analysis are already collected in many of the poorer countries. Statistics on maternal mortality rates are one such indicator: the necessary statistics are available in most countries and give an indication of women's health status and access to health care. Other information is available which reflect women's status in society: for example, policies on marriage, divorce, contraception, the prevention of genital mutilation, women's representation in politics; access to credit, land and housing; and the levels of reported domestic violence, rape, murder and suicide of women (Durbin 1999:107).

In short, the HDI has some potential for becoming more gender sensitive and thus capturing dimensions of poverty which are not usually included in studies of poverty, inequality and well-being world-wide. These additional elements are likely to be most useful for measuring the success (or otherwise) of third world nations in improving levels of well-being amongst their female population.

The Human Development Index, whilst potentially useful for research on women's levels of poverty, inequality and well-being in the poorer nations, is less easily used by the richer nations. This also makes comparisons difficult, and disguises the extent to which women may face similar issues in the richer and poorer worlds. Women in the OECD nations are likely to fare well according to many of the indices used in the HPI, such as access to education and clean water; yet poverty, inequality and related problems of poor health still face many women within the richer nations. For example, it has been found that even in the affluent USA, many people living on welfare benefits and low wages, especially women raising children alone, experience hunger (Eisinger 1998, Edin and Lein 1997: 48-50). The question therefore is: how do we find ways of conceptualising women's poverty, inequality and well-being that are easily applicable to both richer and poorer nations and permit comparisons to be made?


We have seen that some indicators of women's poverty and inequality, such as income, are easier to use in a meaningful way in the richer nations, whilst other indices, such as the HPI, were designed for and are more applicable to studies of poorer nations. By contrast, the concept of social exclusion can be used in both the richer OECD nations and the so-called third world. Research on social exclusion has in fact been taking place in both richer and poorer nations (Gore and Figueiredo 1996). However, the concept is highly politically contestable and takes different forms according to the political situations and traditions of nations.

The term "social exclusion" was coined in France in 1974. The "excluded" were those who were not covered by Social Insurance for any reason. French policy documents refer to exclusions, plural, which captures the multi-dimensionality of the original idea (Silver 1998:46). These dimensions cover economic, political and social aspects, including unemployment, racism and the denial of social rights. One reason for the adoption of the concept of social exclusion in France has been the widespread support from trade unions, employees and the unemployed: at times this support has been expressed in the form of strikes and large-scale demonstrations. However, the notion of social exclusion has spread, and since the 1990s the concept has been extensively used in the European Union (EU) and by international agencies such as the UN and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), both in place of and in addition to the term "poverty". In addition, the EU has developed anti-exclusion legislation.

The opposite and antidote to exclusion is solidarity, which is a popular concept in some nations of the EU. For example, the EU White Paper on Social Security set out an action plan for 1994-9 to combat exclusion and promote solidarity (Silver 1998:56). Solidaristic policies promote inclusion, interdependence and mutual responsibility, and the better-off express solidarity with those who have fewer resources through income transfers (Spicker 1991:17). The concept of solidarity has particular implications for women's material well-being. Nations with solidaristic policies, such as France, Sweden and Denmark, tend to have more generous provision of child care and paid parental leave, a smaller "gender pay gap" and better benefits for mothers parenting alone (Bradshaw et al. 1996).

Overcoming social exclusion also means promoting participation (Figueiredo and de Haan 1998). For women, this is a major issue, since social isolation in the home and exclusion from a wide range of occupations has historically been a major source of poverty and inequality, which has affected women's well-being. Until after World War II married women were routinely and formally excluded from paid work and young single women excluded from much of post-school education, training and career structures (Briar 1997). Since the 1960s, the concept of equality (of opportunity) has disguised the exclusions which most women still face for part of their lives: particularly isolation in the home with small children, as well as having a continuing responsibility for unpaid household labour, most of which is unrecognised and unpaid (Waring 1989).

Overall the various facets of European anti-exclusion legislation tend to centre on assistance into paid work. These elements include: job creation, job-related training, business development, changing the labour market regulations (for example reducing the length of the working week), employment-friendly tax reforms, equity in the paid work force, equal employment opportunities, family-friendly policies and improved access to and standards of childcare (Silver 1998). As a result, women in countries such as Sweden and France have much higher labour force participation rates than in most of the English-speaking nations, where assistance to mothers wishing to enter paid work is relatively minimal (Bradshaw et al 1996). The goal of inclusion makes it easier for women to participate in paid work, although it is debatable whether it is easier for women in solidaristic nations to contest the differential values accorded to paid and unpaid work. Nevertheless, there is evidence that women in those European and Scandinavian nations which utilise the concept of social exclusion and promote solidarity, such as Sweden, Denmark and France, enjoy a higher material standard of living than in most other nations (Bradshaw et al 1996).

As suggested above, the interpretation of social exclusion varies between nations. Those English-speaking nations which have adopted the concept (mainly the USA and UK) have done so in ways that are at variance with some of the key principles adopted in Europe (despite Britain's membership of the EU). The European concept of social exclusion assumes that society at large is the excluding agent and has a responsibility to make amends. However, in the UK and USA, the concept of social exclusion is given a neo-liberal interpretation. Instead of a focus on the responsibility of society, there is a shift to a notion of individual culpability (Peace 1997:116). In the UK, for example, the Blair government emphasises supply-side factors, repeatedly mentioning the responsibilities of the excluded, such as geographical mobility in search of work (Silver 1998:50). Further, a single dimension of social exclusion -- unemployment -- has become the focus, and people who are excluded for other reasons become excluded from discourses of exclusion (Peace 1997:116). This has implications for women, who may be excluded as a result of unsupported parenthood rather than unemployment.

It appears that there has been a lack of gender analysis of the concept of social exclusion so far. A recent literature search revealed only one source that linked women or gender with social exclusion in its title (Sweetman 1996), and even this contained no analysis of the concept in relation to women. We need to know more precisely how and under what circumstances the concept of social exclusion has been and can be used to improve the situation of women. Time-use data can assist this process by showing precisely how and why women are excluded from participation in social life.


Time-poverty exists when people have excessive hours of work, paid or not, and inadequate time for rest and recreation. Since everyone uses time, and the number of hours in a day is finite, the measurement of time-poverty can take place in both the wealthier nations and the poorer ones. Time-use surveys have a wide variety of uses (Fleming and Spellerberg 1999), including the measurement of unpaid work. They are able to capture the time-poverty experienced by mothers in the OECD nations who are increasingly attempting to combine paid and unpaid work; or that of third world women and girls obliged to walk long distances daily to gather fuel and collect water. In addition, in the English-speaking world, over-employment (excessive hours of paid work) is also increasingly an issue (Schorr 1991). Time-poverty and over-employment are not always associated with low income (though they frequently are) and do not normally appear in poverty statistics.

Attention has been given in recent years in the USA and UK to the extension of working hours performed by men, particularly by husbands and fathers (Schorr 1991, Hewitt 1993). However, whilst this is justly recognised as a problem for these men and their families, excessive paid work is only a part of the story. To obtain a full picture of the extent of time-poverty it is necessary to look at the combination of paid and unpaid work. In Australia, it has been shown that the people who work the longest total hours are married mothers, followed by solo mothers. Solo fathers work the next longest total hours, followed by married fathers (Bryson 1996:213). World-wide, women work significantly longer total hours than men, although less of that work is paid (United Nations 1995). Time-use statistics have been collected for 14 industrial nations, nine developing countries and eight countries in Eastern Europe, and women work longer total hours than men in almost every country (United Nations 1995, Fleming and Spellerberg 1999)(4).

There are variations between nations in the extent of the gap between men's and women's time-poverty, and also major variations within some countries between the urban and rural areas: in the rural areas of Kenya, for example, women work vastly longer hours than men (United Nations 1995). In Sweden, one of the most egalitarian nations, a 1995 study showed that total time spent in work was becoming more equal between women and men: between 1984 and 1993 the "gender-gap" in total hours of work shrank from four hours to 1.75 hours per week. However, even in Sweden men still do much less unpaid work than women do: 10.5 hours less per week (United Nations 1995:95). This indicates that women are working fewer hours in paid work than men, which could be expected to reduce women's pay and affect the balance of power within the home and explain women's performing the bulk of the unpaid work. However, even where women are normally employed full-time and pay differentials are small, women tend to perform the familiar "double shift" of paid and unpaid work. In the countries of Eastern Europe, for example, women have greater time-poverty compared with men than in Western Europe, because women have tended to be in full-time paid employment as well as retaining primary responsibility for unpaid domestic work.

Despite variations, therefore, the overall pattern world-wide is one of women working longer hours overall than men and being paid for fewer hours of their work. This profoundly affects women's material well-being and social position relative to men.

Time-use surveys have increased in popularity, especially since World War II, and have developed a consistency of method that has contributed to a growing body of knowledge about unpaid work in the home and community within nations and world-wide (Fleming and Spellerberg 1999). Time-use data is a rich source of information about women's economic well-being. There is, however, a good deal of scope for governments to make greater use of this type of research, particularly in terms of :including unpaid work in official measurements of production, but also in terms of resourcing and rewarding nonmarket productive work.


Studies of health variations focus upon the ways in which health varies according to other factors, such as income and social class. Poor health is now recognised in some measures (for example, in the UN HPI) as a dimension of poverty and inequality, whilst good health is seen as more than the absence of disease, and is an important indicator of well-being. Like some of the other concepts and measures described above, health variations may be researched in both richer and poorer nations. At present, however, large-scale studies of health variations in populations are reliant upon statistics derived from government sources and large-scale surveys, which, as we have seen, often conceal or underestimate women's poverty.

In the richer nations of the world, inequalities in health status have been found to be strongly linked to differences in income and social class, income being the single biggest determinant (National Health Committee 1998:23). Whilst absolute poverty (lack or shortages of essentials for survival) can be most clearly linked with higher levels of mortality and morbidity, research has found that relative poverty, and the stress associated with it, is also strongly linked with poor mental and physical health.

It might be expected that social statistics would illustrate clear links between women's lower personal incomes and their tendency to self-report poorer health than men. However, this has not been clearly established by large-scale research on variations in health status, the majority of which have focused on men. One reason for the lower priority given to research on women's health has been that women tend to survive longer than men do. Women's self-reported ill health tend to be more common than men's but is more likely to be long term and chronic, affecting well-being but less likely to be fatal (Payne 1991). However, the lack of concentration on inequalities in women's health also occurs partly because of problems with the data available to researchers. It is difficult for researchers to obtain large-scale data on women's individual incomes or social class. This is because heterosexual partnered women's incomes continue to be aggregated with those of their husbands; and most women's social class is similarly derived from that of their husbands or fathers.

When we do have information on women's personal disposable incomes (often derived from smaller studies), a very clear association emerges between women's poverty and ill health. For instance, solo mothers, who are now the poorest group in a number of English-speaking nations, report higher levels of disability and of both chronic and acute illness than either solo fathers or partnered mothers (Payne 1991:121). Other studies have shown that women living on benefits in rented accommodation are considerably more likely to have a longstanding illness than those who own their own home (Graham 1993:175).

Studies of health inequalities are potentially useful gender-sensitive ways of contributing to an understanding of the causes and effects of poverty and inequality. However, at present it is difficult to conduct studies of health variations on a large scale because of the ways in which the essential information on variables such as income and social class is collected. Thus, the gendering of long-established social indicators, such as income and social class, spills over and affects some of the newer ways of measuring poverty, inequality and well-being.


How well do the conventional and newer concepts and measures of poverty, inequality and well-being discussed in this paper provide a clear picture of women's material situation? We have seen that, at present, some concepts and measures, including GDP, GPIs, the UN HPI and the concept of social exclusion, do not treat gender as a variable. Information on health variations is useful but currently limited by a shortage of information on women's health status by individual income or social class. At present, arguably, the most accessible sources of information about women's economic situation are time-use data and statistics on incomes, and these also have limitations.

However, most of the concepts and measures described in this paper have the potential to be more gender-sensitive than they are at present. Statistics collected for GNP, for example, would more accurately reflect women's contribution to production if they included the value of unpaid work as part of the main accounts rather than as optional satellite accounts. It has already been shown that the value of such work can be calculated (Ironmonger 1989); and time-use surveys can provide the necessary information about the amounts and types of unpaid work performed. Some time-use surveys, themselves, also have the potential to become more gender-sensitive, by including questions on multi-tasking. Time-use surveys that do collect this information have found that women are particularly likely to be performing several jobs at once. However, at present some time-use surveys omit to ask the question "What else were you doing?" (Fleming and Spellerberg 1999).

Information on incomes collected and disseminated by governments and other large data-collecting agencies such as the United Nations would be more gender-sensitive if individual rather than household incomes were the focus, and if more information on women's individual annual incomes was made available. This would also assist research on women and health variations, and so help to pinpoint precisely what features of poverty and inequality contribute to health breakdown, and what is needed to promote health and well-being (Graham 1993, Payne 1991). We have already seen that the information about well-being in poorer nations, as contained in the UN HDI and HPI, could be made gender-sensitive by disaggregating the data by sex and utilising information that already exists on women's health and social status (Durbin 1999).

The use of the concept of social exclusion to provide a basis for gender-equity policies, as used in Europe, also appears to have considerable potential to improve the economic situation of women by easing their path into paid work, increasing women's rewards from paid work and providing at least partial compensation for their work as mothers. However, it appears that a proper gender analysis of social exclusion has yet to be undertaken, and could form a basis for future research.

How likely is it that these indices and ways of looking at poverty will become more gender-sensitive? Ways of conceptualising and measuring poverty, inequality and well-being are political and contestable, and thus are subject to constant reinterpretation and change. Indices and concepts, to a considerable extent, reflect the values of the people responsible for framing them. Concepts and measures potentially can be framed in ways that expose the poverty of disadvantaged groups, such as women, and that act as a basis for action to improve the situation of these groups. However, the choice of concepts and measures also can be used by governments to present the results of their policies in a more favourable light, or to restrict demands for assistance. What is clear is that the conceptualisation and measurement of some aspects women's poverty and inequality has undergone some changes as a result of pressure for change, and this is likely to continue.

(1) An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1999 Women's Studies Association Annual Conference at Victoria University of Wellington, and the paper appears in the proceedings of that conference. Celia Briar wishes to thank the anonymous referee whose input assisted in the process of turning the conference paper into a journal article.

(2) In New Zealand, prior to 1991, there was a participation basis to benefits, as recommended in the Royal Commission of Social Security in 1974. The benefit cuts which took effect from 1991 were apparently based on minimum subsistence budgets, as recommended by Edith Brashares, a US Treasury consultant about social security (Viet-Wilson 1998). Her recommendations were adopted as the new Minimum Income Standard by Treasury and the Department of Social Welfare (Stephens 1992). The reduced benefits were derived from the American Orshanky Poverty Line (OPL) (Brashares 1993). This was achieved by calculating a minimum dietary and multiplying the food share by five to cover total income needs. The University of Otago prepared the basic dietary and the cost was similar to the amount spent on the food for one prison inmate in 1989. This was multiplied by a factor of four and intended to cover all other household needs, including rent, rates, power bills, clothing, medical expenses and emergencies.

(3) This gap is smaller in nations that have effective legislation covering equal pay for work of equal value, but wider in the USA where the equal pay legislation is weak.

(4) However, Fleming and Spellerberg (1999) point out that not all of these surveys in fact took place on a national scale.


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Celia Briar Social Policy and Social Work Massey University
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Author:Briar, Celia
Publication:Social Policy Journal of New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jul 1, 2000

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