Poverty is a persisting problem of the world, and its conceptualization and measuring remains problematic as the concept is multidimensional and political. It is a known fact that economic development does not necessarily eliminate poverty, while countries with different development levels and welfare state policies experience different levels of poverty. Hence, poverty has become a major problem for both the developed and the developing countries, and in Turkey in particular it has gained in importance since 1990. Various governments during the 1990-2004 period recognized the fact that poverty is no longer a transitory problem and that it has an increasing tendency. Since 1999, rethinking and restructuring of the existing welfare programs, especially focusing on poverty alleviation, has started.
This paper will discuss the reasons behind rising rural and urban poverty in Turkey and elaborate on the changing roles of the family and social networks vis-a vis the role of the state and inclusion policies in the alleviation of poverty in Turkey. For poverty alleviation programs to gain importance two aspects should be emphasised. Firstly, an awareness of poverty should begin to be disseminated among the public and in the state. Secondly, a consensus on the indicators of poverty, which may vary in time and space, should be reached by major political organizations and actors in the society. Since awareness has started very recently in this country, a consensus has not yet been reached about how poverty can be defined in the Turkish context, what is the extent of poverty, what are the appropriate indicators, and what are the major risk groups. So I will try to give some information about recent poverty schemes in Turkey and will discuss some indicators and dynamics of poverty mainly on the basis of qualitative research.
The arguments will be based on information gathered through various research activities of the author; these have been carried out since 1991 in major cities of Turkey with high rates of in-migration (Ankara, İstanbul, İzmir, Mersin, and also Urfa and Diyarbakır). The method used is mainly of in-depth interviews and collecting family, work, and migration histories of families, who most of the times are found to be living in the squatter housing settlements surrounding the metropolitan cities. Some research has also been conducted in a number of villages of Southeastern Anatolia to assess the impact of irrigation on human development. In all these research activities specific attention was given to children, youth, elderly and specifically to gender issues. This last point is especially significant given that, in the case of Turkey, women’s participation in the labour force is very low and consequently dependency by women on male income earners and the family is very high, all of which render women a specific risk group in many social issues related to poverty.