Poor Citizen


Poor Citizen Essay, Research Paper

INTRODUCTIONIs ?poor citizen? a contradiction

in term? Can we truly speak of a person as ?complete? citizen if he strives day

and night for his survival in poverty? Can such a person exercise the rights

granted to him by the virtue of his membership to the community? Does not the

term poverty suggest the failure of social citizenship rights? This concise

essay will attempt to briefly answer these questions.In order to be able to

sufficiently answer these questions, we need to briefly examine citizenship

rights and look at what is that rights give to the person in whom they are

vested and determine how poverty effects the citizenship rights of an individual. Understanding Social Citizenship Rights. To the Greek philosopher

Aristotle citizenship was the privileged status for all free men of the

city-state. Women and children were not considered citizens and were therefore

excluded. Marshall (1950) sees citizenship as a status bestowed upon the full

members of a community. Marshall argues that there are no fixed inherent rights

in the concept of citizenship, however with historic development rights have

come to be associated with citizenship. Marshall identifies three types of

rights that he argues to be associated with citizenship in modern democracies.

He calls them civil rights, social rights and political rights.? To T.H. Marshall civil rights are rights of

citizenship necessary for personal freedom and liberty and include ?liberty of

the person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, the right to own property and

to conclude valid contracts, and the right to justice? (p. 10). In the economic

sphere, Marshall considered it a basic civil right to be able to follow the

occupation of one?s choice at the place of one?s choice, subject only to

legitimate restrictions. Citizenship in the modern democracy is based on

universal suffrage and equality before the law (Barbalet 1988).Socio-economic rights have

also been reflected in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, as fundamental human

rights. These rights are also further elaborated in the UN?s International

Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These rights include rights

to social security in the event of unemployment,? sickness, disability or widowhood or old age, rights to food,

housing and clothing, rights to medical care and rights to various sorts of

education (Jones 1994). These rights also include inter alia the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of

employment, to protection against unemployment, to fair remuneration for the

work done, and to rest and leisure. Furthermore, everyone is also said to have

the right to ?freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy

the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits?.[1]There is a debate in academia as

to whether socio-economic rights are fundamental human rights or just

citizenship rights granted to the members of a nation-state. Maurice Cranston (1973)

argues that for a right to be basic and fundamental human right it must satisfy

three conditions of ?practicality?, ?universality? and ?paramount importance?.

Cranston argues that socio-economic rights fail the test of ?practicability?

i.e. it is not practical for governments of the developing countries to provide

all for their inhabitants with goods such as ?a standard of living adequate for

their health and well being?. Cranston argues that for a right to be

fundamental it must be genuinely universal in two ways: it should be a right

for all, and right against all. This, Cranston argues, is not true for

socio-economic rights as a right to periodic holidays is a rights claimed only

by the employees. In the same way socio-economic rights are not against all, as

the right to freedom of expression, rather they are rights against a government

or an employer. Socio-economic rights pass the test of ?paramount importance?,

but because of their failure to be practical and universal they are not

fundamental human rights, but citizenship rights. Donnelly (1985) has

criticised Cranston with being too simplistic. He argues that to say that right

to social security is not universal because not everyone will need to resort to

the welfare facility providing social security, is to say that the right to

fair trial is not a universal right because not everyone will need it. Welfare goods are considered

to be closely associated with social rights as it is through the consumption of

welfare goods that a citizen is able to realise the rights granted to him as a

citizen and attain well being. There are three reasons for considering welfare

goods essential for well being. One, they are regarded necessary for the

quality of life people spend. The second reason concerns the obligation of the

society to cater to the needs of its members. Thirdly, considering welfare

goods as rights tends to reduce the stigma attached with the benefits given to

the people by the government (Jones 1994).UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF RIGHTS Needs as RightsIt has been argued that people

have rights because they have needs. This line of argument is not without

problems. First of all what are needs and how can they be defined. What is the

difference between needs and wants? Needs have been argued to have an objective

quality that wants do not have. Wants are inherently subjective and various.

The needs are said to be limited and identical for all human beings therefore

it is practical to take them as rights for all human beings. Needs are things

that are considered crucial to the well-being of the individuals. Can this be

argued that people have a right to what they need? This can not be done for the

reason that needs in themselves are not ?complete? (White 1975, pp.105-7). The

argument is that if one says that he has a particular need he can be asked for

what. Thus a full statement of needs must have the justification for the need.

Justification aspect of needs is quite important. The essentialness of the need

is judged on the basis of justification. Our response to a person?s claim that

he needs a gun will be different if he needs the gun to defend himself against

criminals or he needs it to kill someone. Thus, it can be said that the moral

claim of the need is entirely dependent on the ends to which they are directed.As already stated, needs can only

be treated as human rights if some fundamental, basic needs can be identified

that are universally sought by all humans. Rawl?s (1971) has identified these

basic needs as what he calls the primary goods. These are the goods that are

rational to want for the pursuit of one?s ends, irrespective of what these ends

might be. In this sense ?basic freedom, and opportunities, income and wealth,

can be conceived as providing for fundamental needs? (Jones 1994, p.151). Weale

(1978) has added specific needs as education and health care to the list of

basic human needs. The identification of basic needs has the advantage that

these needs are common to all and are required for the pursuits of any

purposes. However, if needs are identified as wealth and income than this

approach does not help us in establishing needs as rights as it does not assist

us in determining who ought to get what. Another way to establish fundamental

human needs is to determine them on the basis of what is required by humans to

function properly as humans. We would end up with a list including air, and a

certain minimum of food and water. The list may also include a certain degree

of autonomy, physical and mental health as the requisite to act as human beings

(Doyal and Gough 1991). So, it can be said that

socio-economic rights are essential for the well being of citizens. The next

section examines briefly that what is it that rights offer people and see how

poverty effects the ability of individuals to exercise their rights.Rights as Freedoms Rights grant a certain

degree of freedom and liberty to the right-holders. According to the ?Interest

Theory? of rights ?to ascribe rights to someone is to say that some aspect of

that person?s well-being is legally or morally shielded against interference

and non-assistance?. The other dominant theory of rights called the ?Will

Theory? of rights ?maintains that all rights consist in enjoyment of

opportunities for individual or corporate choices?each right invests its holder

with some degree of control over his or her situation (Kramer et al 1998, p.2).So it would not be wrong to say

that rights are basically about the freedom and choices they offer to the

person in whom they vest. Therefore to understand the nature of rights we need

to explore the concept of personal liberty and autonomy.?Personal liberty has often been defined as freedom or liberty to

do or not to do something. This freedom is not unqualified and is restricted in

certain cases by the laws of the land and the rights of other individuals. ?The

rights of individuals to decide and to act as each of them chooses within a

circumscribed sphere of life may be described as the right to personal liberty’

(Jones 1994, p. 122).According to Immanuel Kant human

specie is unique in the aspect that it is capable of autonomous conduct. Unlike

non-humans who can only act in accordance with their nature, humans can act

according to their own conception of what they ought to do i.e. in accordance

of their self-imposed rules. So, in Kant?s view an individual will be deemed to

have acted autonomously if he acted in accordance with the rules and principles

that he had prescribed for himself, or in other words when he acted rationally.

Kantian concept of autonomy has come to be associated with ?neutralist?

liberalism i.e. the state should remain unconcerned with the ends to which its

citizens may devote their lives (Jones 1989). However the liberals who take

that view do not hold that state can and should remain neutral in all matters.

The rules governing the pursuit of these ends may be set by the state, however

the citizens should have liberty to pursue their goals in that framework. To

neutralist liberals there is a distinction between ?right? and ?good?. For them

?right? provides them the framework within which they are free to pursue their

own conceptions of ?good?.Berlin (1969) has criticised the

Kantian concept of autonomy as too narrow and suited to repressive regimes,

which are normally at odds with the basic rights to freedom. Liberal theorists

take a more generous view of the concept of autonomy. In their view autonomy is

the liberty to make choices, to formulate plans and projects, and to be the

architect of one?s life-goals and ambitions.J.S. Mill has placed high value

on individual ?liberty?, the word he has used for autonomy, i.e. the freedom to

individuals to develop their own life in the way they consider proper. Joseph

Raz (1986) argues that ideal of personal autonomy is ? the vision of people

controlling, to some degree, their own destiny, fashioning it through

successive decisions throughout their lives? (p. 369). To Raz freedom and

autonomy means presence of worthwhile options to the individuals to shape their

lives.One finds in the literature that

economic limitations have been treated by some authors as constraining the

freedom of the poor people, whereas others have regarded them as limits on what

people are ?able? to do rather than what they are ?free? to do. It has also

been argued that if lack of material resources amounts to lack of freedom, then

the right to do a particular act will mean the right to have the resources to

do that act. However, if lack of resources is not lack of freedom than the

rights to freedom will be much more modest. Furthermore, if poverty is not

described as ?unfreedom?, the right to freedom will not include the right to

not be impoverished. It has been argued that a way out of this ?able? and

?free? debate is to argue that poor have a negative freedom to achieve their

?good? but they do not have a positive freedom to achieve their well-being. Conclusion From the above discussion it can

be said that rights are about liberties that provide the right-holders with the

autonomy to make choices. Socio-economic rights should be able to grant

citizens with autonomy to shape their socio-economic lives, the way they wish

to shape them by selecting the choices available to them. Do poor citizens have

this autonomy? Do they have sufficient socio-economic choices that make them

capable to shape their lives as they like? Does lack of resources in any way

hampers their pursuit of their own notion of ?good?? Amartya Sen (1992) writes that

the resources that a person has represent the extent of freedom he has to

consume the various ?bundles? of goods available. To use the same argument the

lower the level of resources the fewer the choices available for consumption.

Fewer the choices available lower the level of freedom granted to the person to

act in the way he wishes to act to achieve his own notion of ?good?. Therefore

it can be argued that lack of resources decreases the freedom a person has to

achieve well being. Freedom is central to the notion of rights; therefore it

can be said that with poverty the individual?s capability to exercise his

rights decreases.It can therefore be concluded

that poor citizenship is in fact a contradiction. A person can not be poor and

a full citizen, exercising the freedoms of action granted to him by virtue of

his membership to the state.?? REFERENCES1.

Barbalet, J.M. (1998) Citizenship:

rights, struggle and class inequality, Milton Keynes: Open University

Press. 2.

Berlin, I. (1969) Four Essays on

Liberty, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 3.

?Cranston, M. (1973) What are Human Rights?, London: Bodley

Head. 4.

?Donnelly, J. (1985) The Concept of Human Rights, London:

Croom Helm. 5.

?Doyal, L. & Gough, I. A Theory of Human Need, Basingstoke:

Macmillan. 6.

?Jones, P. (1989) ?The ideal of the neutral state? in John Horton and

Susan Mendus (eds), The Nature of

Political Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press. 7.

__________ (1994) Rights, Basingstoke:

Macmillan. 8.

Kramer, M.H., Simminds, N.E., and Steiner, H. (1998) A Debate Over Rights, ?Oxford: Oxford University Press. 9.

Marshall, T.H. (1950) Citizenship

and Social Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10. ?Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of

Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 11. ?Raz, J. (1986) The Morality

of Freedom, Oxford: Clarendon Press. 12. ?Sen, A. (1992) Inequality

Reexamined, Oxford: Clarendon Press. 13. ?Weale, A. (1978) Equality

and Social Policy, London: Routledge & Kagan Paul. 14. ?White, A.R. (1975) Modal Thinking, NY: Cornell University

Press. [1] Article 27(1) Universal

Declaration of Human Rights.


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