There is a certain tension over how we should be defining poverty. On the one hand we've Adam Smith's linen shirt example, if society thinks that not being able to afford something makes you poor, you cannot afford it, then you're poor in that society. On the other hand that declaration of poverty also brings with it, for all too many, the right to then confiscate from others to repair the deficiency.
Just about everyone agrees with both propositions but in differing degrees. We're just fine with the idea of that confiscation, that taxation, to produce food for the starving. We're likely to be less accommodating to a suggestion that something similar must be done about iPad inequality.
As so often with economic questions the answer becomes "It Depends."
At which point we really do need to insist that this isn't poverty:
A report from In Kind Direct says thousands of people are seeking help and describes the issue as a “hidden crisis”. Last year the charity distributed a record £20.2m of hygiene products, a rise of 67% on £12.1m the year before.
The charity itself looks like a thoroughly good idea to us. Manufacturers do end up with a certain amount of whatever that is off spec. Nothing wrong with it in its essence, just not quite up to prime time retailing - labels wonky, colours running on the printing, that sort of thing. Rather than dumping or scrapping it why not pass it along to the poor?
Quite, why not? And yet:
Growing numbers of people are facing hygiene poverty, where they are unable to afford essential products such as shampoo and deodorant, and are having to choose between eating and keeping clean, a charity has found.
No, we do not believe, and nothing will convince us to believe, that an inability to afford deodorant is poverty. And most certainly not the sort of poverty that lays a claim upon the incomes of others.
In fact, the very claim that this is poverty we would take as being evidence that there is no poverty in the United Kingdom today. Which puts us up there with Barbara Castle in fact, who back in the 1960s pointed out that there was no poverty in Britain any more. Both of us here talking about absolute poverty of course. There is still that inequality that some have more than others, still the possibility of Smith's linen shirt style as well.
But if that debate has now got to the point where we're talking about deodorant poverty then we're really very sure that the problem has been licked. What remains is a triviality of First World Problems level, something we can safely ignore while we get on with solving other matters.