Measuring development post-2015: highlighting the poorest of the poor

By Sabina AlkireSabina blog pic

This week saw the culmination of the Global Thematic Consultation on Addressing Inequalities in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, led by UNICEF and UN Women with support from the governments of Denmark and Ghana.

One of the recommendations put forward in the consultation’s Synthesis Report is that better data systems should be developed at country level that can describe and monitor changes in the circumstances of different population groups.

‘One important tool in strengthening these systems is a Multidimensional Poverty Index, which shows the deprivations a household (or child) experiences simultaneously, highlighting the poorest of the poor as those experiencing a large set of simultaneous deprivations at the same time,’ the report states.

‘This approach not only highlights changes in multidimensional poverty but also illustrates trends in social exclusion and marginalization.’

Also this week, Andy Sumner and I published a briefing in which we call for a new ‘headline’ measure of multidimensional poverty to be considered for the post-2015 MDGs; a measure that reflects participatory inputs (including new dimensions), can be easily disaggregated, and that we believe could serve the purpose set out in the Inequalities Consultation report.

A global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2.0 – building on the MPI reported in the Human Development Reports for over 100 developing countries since 2010 – could provide an intuitive overview of multidimensional poverty to complement a $1.25/day measure and indicators on individual goals such as health or education.

Such a measure could enable policymakers to see at a glance whether and how multidimensional poverty was being reduced across states, for example, or different social groups; it could be quickly and easily disaggregated to show which overlapping disadvantages are faced by agricultural labourers, or by families with small children in different geographical regions.

The MPI reported in UNDP’s Human Development Report is based on ten indicators of health, education and living standards, and shows both the incidence and intensity of poverty. It measures deprivations directly, and shows in which regions or among which groups poverty is being reduced, and how that reduction is being achieved; for example, that a particular group has moved out of poverty thanks to an improvement in its access to education or safe water and electricity.

For the post-2015 context, an MPI 2.0 could be created with dimensions, indicators and cutoffs that reflect the post-2015 development agenda. The process of selecting the indicators and cutoffs should be participatory, and the voices of the poor and the marginalised should drive decisions. A “child MPI” could also be created to measure multidimensional poverty among children, using the same methodology.

In addition, governments or civil society organisations can create their own national MPIs with indicators, cutoffs and values that reflect their national plan or goals, complementing and enriching a global MPI 2.0. Such measures are already in use – for example, by the Government of Colombia.

An MPI 2.0 could reflect effective social policy interventions immediately, thereby acting as a monitoring and evaluation tool. In doing so, it would provide political incentives to policymakers not only to implement effective interventions, but to reduce the many different aspects of poverty together. A disaggregated MPI could also be used alongside geographic data to give an overview of the nexus between poverty and sustainability challenges.

Andy and I suggest that an easy to understand and disaggregate measure that clearly shows the inequalities between those living in poverty, in terms of the number and type of interconnected deprivations they face, provides an essential complement to income measures and individual goals for policymakers, by enabling them to see quickly and easily what is happening ‘beneath the averages’. We hope to discuss this further with all sides and see what kind of MPI 2.0 could be truly useful.

To close with a quote from the Global Thematic Consultation on Addressing Inequalities Synthesis Report:

‘Whatever the methodologies to be used, it is important to gain a deeper understanding of the intersecting and multidimensional nature of prevailing inequalities, such that the use of “simple” or proxy indicators does not serve to distract policy attention from the inherent complexities, or from the need for comprehensive, multi-sectoral policy responses.’

Sabina Alkire is Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

This post is based on the OPHI briefing ‘Multidimensional Poverty and the Post-2015 MDGs’, by Sabina Alkire and Andy Sumner of King’s College London.


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