Poverty Law and Equality Rights: Preliminary Reflections

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The traditional governmental response to the phenomenon of poverty has been the enactment of legislation to permit or effect the transfer of some measure of economic resources to the poor. From feudal times to the present, governments of our political tradition have consistently embraced an economic definition of poverty: the poor are identified by financial criteria and are assisted by financial means. The legislative evolution in regard to poverty, based on this underlying economic premise, has achieved only superficial advances. First, twentieth century legislation incorporates a more humane standard of minimum acceptable resource allotments. Second, the modern social welfare system represents a somewhat more comprehensive and less stigmatizing legislative bandage than were such earlier legal vehicles as the regulation of begging, institutionalized almsgiving and workhouses.