Inequality and the capability approach.

Document type
Burchardt, Tania; Hick, Rob.
Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion
Date of publication
1 January 2017
Poverty Alleviation Welfare Benefits and Financial Inclusion, Employment
Social welfare
Material type

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This paper seeks to examine the debate on distributional inequality from the perspective of capability, and the issues that this raises. The authors note that this approach emphasises the distinction between means and ends and broadens the focus of poverty research from monetary resources to multiple dimensions of deprivation. They address two challenges: 

  • to examine what a capability-inspired study of inequality might look like and what – if anything – the approach can contribute, conceptually speaking, to the study of distributional inequality, and 
  •  to explore whether shifting the focus from a more traditional concern with poverty to one of inequality raises new issues for the capability approach, or casts a new light on more familiar debates.

They conclude that the multi-dimensional focus of the capability approach can provide new insights into distributional inequality, and suggest that certain aspects of advantage are better thought of as capabilities rather than functionings. They also question whether a capability-inspired study of advantage and disadvantage could shift away from a focus on income and wealth entirely.

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