Government expenditure on benefits, subsidies and services fulfils many purposes, of which alleviating poverty is only one, which makes any focus on poverty reduction complex. The following though, might be regarded a minimum set of measures relating specifically to poverty:
- Providing an income sufficient to pay for necessary consumables (e.g. food and energy).
- Meeting some or all of the costs of housing of a minimum standard for those with no or a low income.
- Basic healthcare that is either free or, where there are charges, they are set at the minimum necessary to discourage waste.
- Free education of a reasonable quality for children.
Income may be provided by a minimum wage, in-work top-up payments, retirement pension, or unemployment/sickness/disability benefits, or some combination of these.
Various other benefits, subsidies and services exist for other purposes. Transport may be subsidised in order to promote economic productivity. Education may be funded to a higher level of quality for the same reason. More than just basic healthcare may be provided free because it is in the interests of the general population to do so.
By the same token, the level at which the minimum wage is set, or the value of in-work benefits, may be determined by a desire to maximise the size of the workforce rather than just to bring people out of poverty.
The important point is that if poverty reduction (and, preferably, poverty elimination) is the most important task facing our society, then it is the measures targeted specifically at this objective that should be prioritised when making choices about government expenditure. The advantage of such clarity is that, in a time of troubled public finances and a natural unwillingness on the part of the electorate to entertain higher taxes, the goal of poverty reduction can be pursued without inciting insuperable economic or political difficulties; though it may be at the expense of other public policy objectives.