What is absolute poverty?
Absolute or extreme poverty is when people lack the basic necessities for survival. For instance they may be starving, lack clean water, proper housing, sufficient clothing or medicines and be struggling to stay alive.
The United Nations tends to focus its efforts on eliminating absolute or extreme poverty. The first goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Eradicating extreme poverty is translated into the targets “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day” (1st target) and “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 (2nd target)”. Still, more than 836 million people are living in extreme poverty at the global level. (UN, 2017)
Although absolute poverty is more common in developing countries, it has increased considerably in Europe over the last few years, particularly with the crisis and the consequent austerity measures.
 The international poverty line was set at $1 a day at the time the MDGs were established, but since 2008, the World Bank has defined people living in extreme poverty as those living on less than $1.25 a day, reflecting higher price levels in many developing countries than previously estimated. The definition was changed again in 2015, with the new global poverty line being set at $1.90 per day, using 2011 prices. See more here and here.
What is relative poverty?
Relative poverty is where some people’s way of life and income is so much worse than the general standard of living in the country or region in which they live that they struggle to live a normal life and to participate in ordinary economic, social and cultural activities. What this means will vary from country to country, depending on the standard of living enjoyed by the majority.
The European Union’s Social Inclusion Process uses a relative definition of poverty.
“People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live.
Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantages through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalised from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted”.
European Commission, Joint Report on Social Inclusion 2004