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Measuring & Analysing Poverty


Video by World Bank, see original webpage here»

Most people, whatever their social status, have a clear mental image of what it is to be poor. The simplest definition, that of a lack of money, is still one that is widely used – thus the UN Millennium Development Goals define people living on less than US $1 per day as poor (a figure revised upwards to US $1.90 per day by the World Bank in 2015). Yet even if this figure is adjusted to fit local contexts, it hides many important components of poverty.

Most countries define a national poverty line, defined as the minimum income needed to survive. Since there are general implications of the need for State support for those who fall below the poverty line, the way it is defined can be contentious and subject to manipulation. There are of course many other ways of measuring poverty, one that is widely used for cross-country comparisons being the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) , which combines life expectancy, education, and income. A more comprehensive measurement is the Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and launched in 2010 with the support of the UNDP.

The SDC understands poverty as a multifaceted phenomenon encompassing economic, human, political, socio-cultural, and protective aspects – with gender being a cross-cutting issue. Globally, a woman is more likely to be poor than a man. The multi-faceted definition of poverty shows that being poor touches all aspects of life, undermining human dignity and well-being. It also underlines the fact that money alone does not necessarily release people from poverty.

Poverty has a spatial element, in that people living in particular geographical areas – often remote, poorly supplied with basic services and agriculturally unproductive – can be caught in spatial poverty traps.

Poverty also has a temporal element. For some people, being poor it is a temporary situation caused by factors beyond their control, from which they believe it is possible to escape. For other people, being poor is a fact of life, a chronic situation that they cannot envisage ever being able to escape; indeed, the structural factors keeping them in poverty may be beyond their influence to change. Such people are often defined as those living in chronic, absolute, or extreme poverty. Generally, it is considered a greater challenge to design interventions that reach people who are chronically poor.

Outcome Reference Indicators - Monitoring Poverty and Inclusion

The thorough monitoring of progress on poverty and inclusion, and on the leave no one behind imperative, depends on reliable baseline data on the excluded groups and individuals and on the definition of indicators that can be used to track progress. To determine if and how the theory of change is realised, the monitoring system and the indicators must allow the close tracking of the progress of the defined group of people left behind.

There are currently no specific indicators to measure progress on leave no one behind, but this principle should rather be reflected in the indicators of all SDC programmes. The aspects below are key to consider in determining whether an indicator is relevant to measuring poverty and inclusion.

Disaggregated data: the disaggregation of data by sex, wealth, ethnicity or caste, religion, age and place of residence or other identity criteria such as disability enables the monitoring to identify who has benefited from development programmes and who has not. Context determines the criteria for disaggregation. Data collection is highly political and disaggregated data often are unavailable in contexts where they would be most relevant. This issue is of special importance for leaving no one behind, and the SDC should address it in its policy dialogue.

Qualitative data: indicators should also report on qualitative aspects of the results. Qualitative data collection methods such as focus groups, interviews or observations can capture transformative change and empowerment, help the SDC understand the motivations and opinion of the people, and provide insights. Beneficiary assessment is an excellent tool for integrating excluded people's knowledge and views into the planning and prioritising of interventions. In addition, gender and social inclusion analysis of a programme or portfolio and its projects will help the SDC understand any changes in the circumstances of the excluded people. Indicators should also provide qualitative information at the systems level, for example reporting on the nature of policies and measures addressing discrimination and inclusion of certain groups. This can provide a qualitative element in the review of the theory of change.​

​​Further Information​

> Fragility and Conflict: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Poverty

> Data and Leave No One Behind​

> Is the world on track to end poverty by 2030? See for yourself through the World Poverty Clock

> Why poverty targeting may not be the right thing to do

> Time to End Extreme Inequality: Oxfam’s New Report

> Counting the Asian Poor… Do Revisions in Calculations Lead to Greater Understanding?

> Prioritising Poverty Reduction: Swiss, Swedish and Norwegian ODA Compared

> The Politics of Evidence: Sharpening the Poverty Focus of Donor Development Efforts – Or Dumbing it Down? 

> International Indices: Confusing or Clarifying the Poverty Debate?

> The World Bank’s New Poverty Focus: A Radical Change or “More of the Same”?

> The World Bank – Poverty & Equity Data Portal

> Rural Poverty Reduction in Afghanistan: The Need to Re-Emphasise the Multidimensionality of Poverty

​> The Invisibility of People in Development Projects  

> The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach Learning Module: Poverty and Livelihoods in Development Cooperation 

> How Concern Understands Extreme Poverty