Measuring & Analyzing Poverty


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 $1.25 per day by the World Bank in 2008). 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.

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.


Time to End Extreme Inequality
Oxfam’s new report

Jane Carter, November, 2014

A report with high profile endorsement
Following a “blog Action Day” to end global inequality on 16 October, Oxfam launched its new report, titled “Even it Up”, at the end of the month (1). Being 136 pages long, the report takes a little while to read – but it comes with a more digestible 17 page executive summary, as well as some very prestigious backing. Those endorsing it include Graçia Machel, Kofi Annan, Professor Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize winner for Economics), Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (authors of The Spirit Level) (2), and Andrew Haldane (Chief Economist, Bank of England), to name but a few. Read more »

Counting the Asian Poor… Do revisions in calculations lead to greater understanding?
Jane Carter, October 2014

The Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2014 is, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), its “flagship annual statistical publication” (1). It certainly does no lack figures – including a detailed compilation of statistics, largely of a financial nature, by individual country as well as an overall analysis of trends. This year attention has been drawn to the publication by the Guardian global development blog, amongst others, for its special chapter on poverty in Asia, and its assertion that extreme poverty in the region has been under-estimated (2). This is of course important not only as a fact in its own right, but also because it undermines the claim that the MDG 1 of halving global poverty by 2015 has been met ahead of time. The ADB’s argument hinges on questioning the internationally agreed definition of poverty as a per capita income of below US $ 1.25 per day; the bank considers this to be too low a cut-off point. Here it should be noted that the original definition in the MDGs was of “poverty” whereas the ADB consistently refers to “extreme poverty” - by definition, a smaller group of people. Read more »

How Concern Understands Extreme Poverty
Concern, May 2010

This paper describes and elaborates on the understanding of extreme poverty that has been reached by Concern, namely that extreme poverty and thus extremely poor people are those without basic assets, or even when basic assets are available their existence does not generate sufficient returns to meet basic human needs. Concern also recognises that the two dimensions of inequality, and risk and vulnerability need to be tackled if people are to exit sustainably out of extreme poverty.

Download the document here:

Prioritising Poverty Reduction: Swiss, Swedish and Norwegian ODA Compared, lessons to be learned from OECD’s peer reviews
Jane Carter, March 2014

As readers following trends in Swiss development cooperation will no doubt be aware, February 2014 saw the publication of the latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) peer review of Switzerland’s performance as a provider of ODA (official development assistance). These peer reviews of each DAC (Development Assistance Committee) member country are conducted roughly every four years, and are considered to be “robust, independent evaluations providing information about what works, what does not, and why”. They are of course based on OECD priorities such as the comprehensiveness of development efforts; strategic orientation; delivery modalities; results-based management, transparency and accountability. Media releases by OECD and SDC stressed the many positive findings of the review, including the Swiss federal commitment to steadily increase development spending to 0.5% of GNI. Read more »

The Politics of Evidence: Sharpening the poverty focus of donor development efforts – or dumbing it down?
Jane Carter, June 2013

In late May 2013, Dr Rosalind Eyben of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) was invited to speak at SDC Bern on the politics of monitoring and evaluation. Noting the growing insistence of donor agencies for facts and figures demonstrating the results of development funding, she argued that this is having significant consequences (unintended or otherwise) in the shaping of development programmes and their underlying theory of change. This of course has significant implications for poverty impacts. Read more »

International Indices: Confusing or clarifying the poverty debate? The Human Development Index and other ways of quantifying difference in achieving human potential
Jane Carter
, April 2013

The 2012 figures for UNDP’s International Human Development Index came out on 14 March 2013 and made front page news in the English newspapers in Bangladesh. “Bangladesh ahead of India in some areas” championed one paper. Some positive news was certainly needed, given that other reports in the same paper covered violent anti-government clashes, school pupils falling behind in their studies due to the numerous all-day strikes, and acid attacks on women. But on what are the HDI figures based, from what data are they sourced, and what alternative indices exist? Read more »

The World Bank’s New Poverty Focus: A radical change or “more of the same”?
Jane Carter
, April 2013

The World Bank gained a new President a year ago this month, an American-Korean medical doctor and anthropologist, Dr Jim Yong Kim. One year into his presidency, he has announced a new World Bank approach to global poverty. It aims “to galvanize international and national support around two goals: to virtually end extreme poverty in a generation and to push for greater equity.” Also announced is the introduction of a new “Shared Prosperity Indicator”, although the details of how this will be calculated are not yet available on the Bank’s website. What, then, is new – or is it really new? Read more »

Rural Poverty Reduction in Afghanistan: The need to re-emphasise the multidimensionality of poverty
Tania Rohrer, November 2012

By tracing rural livelihoods of Afghan rural households, researchers of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit discovered that even though many of households have experienced improvements in access to basic services in the last decade, livelihood security has declined for the majority. Most households are poorer now than they were at the start of the decade. Read more »

The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach Learning Module: Poverty and Livelihoods in Development Cooperation
SDC and NADEL, March 2007
This didactical learning module on Poverty and Livelihoods in development cooperation comprises visual material produced by an Indian artist combined with brief explanations that can be used for self-learning or as a resource in workshops.
Use the SLA Module online »
Download a PDF of the SLA Module »