Conversations with Cherise: Measuring Poverty in the Region – Past, Present, and Future


Measuring Poverty in the Region - Past

Sep 16, 2016

As the first part in a series of articles, the Communications Unit sat down with the Project Coordinator responsible for Statistical Capacity Building within the UNDP Barbados and the OECS team, Cherise Adjodha, to discuss the UNDP Sub-regional Office for Barbados and the OECS’ role in poverty measurement in the sub-region. This first conversation focused generally on the shift in definitions of poverty and approaches to poverty measurement and subsequent conversations will explore the present state and future considerations.

CU: Is poverty really a concern for us in the region; we hear about people living on less than US $1 per day; is that our reality?

CA: Those numbers really come from a global comparison which is about relative poverty. If we compare ourselves to countries like India, we’re never going to have an accurate view of poverty here. Even in our region we have great disparities in how people experience poverty. When we define poverty beyond income, that is, look at the housing, education, access to clean water, we realise that wellbeing is dependent on many factors which come together to shape a person’s life. The structure of societies and access to basic human services and rights have a big role to play in the experience of poverty.

If we think about it, how we define poverty determines who we see as poor and, if poverty is defined in a narrow way, there would be lots of dimensions of how people live that aren’t captured. If we only focus on a unidimensional measure, whether it is income, or perhaps access to education, we would still be missing the compounded impact of multiple areas a person or household is deprived. For example, if we focus on income and someone is in a middle class income bracket, we may miss that they are a single parent caring for a large family, and living in unsafe housing conditions. It may also be that children in this household stay home to help take care of elderly persons or younger children and do not attend school regularly.

We recognise that addressing poverty is complex and this is why we are focusing on improving poverty measurement in the OECS region by supporting implementation of the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI will help OECS countries to look at the many factors which contribute to how people really experience poverty here.

CU: Why don’t we just focus on the people who earn the least amount of money?

CA:  Income is still very important to look at and sometimes economic poverty is the main reason people experience deprivation in other areas, but it should not be the main consideration for addressing poverty. If we think about poverty as a condition of life where people don’t have equal access to human rights and freedoms, if we see it as a condition which limits our ability to enjoy health and wellbeing, we can then see that there are lots of limits to what money can buy.

For example, if you can, imagine a society where people had lots of money but there are no hospitals, no schools, no police stations, and no easy access to healthy food. You can see that we need other things to be in place for money to have any use. If you add to that someone being abused at home, and not having control over how they spend their money, if you take away someone’s right to live in a safe environment, we can see that regardless of the money in our bank accounts, we will not enjoy a healthy fulfilled life.

Being poor in a multi-dimensional context then, means that there are several areas in your life that are important for health and well-being in which you are deprived, and which are affecting your ability to live a peaceful and productive life.

CU: Why there is a need to measure poverty? Can’t we just do something about it?

CA: In terms of problem solving, we need to know who is affected and be able to identify the institutional and structural challenges and solve them. If we do not address the root causes of poverty through a structured approach, whatever we do will be a short term fix.  People also do not experience poverty in the same way. Some groups of people for example ethnic minorities or single mothers heading households may experience poverty in very specific ways that need to be identified.

Also, regular measurement is important to show progress over time so that we can see if policies and programmes are effective. Levels of poverty are not fixed and change over time. So, measurement is also needed to respond and adapt to our constantly changing environment. Whether in response to a global financial crisis or after a natural disaster like a hurricane for example, ultimately, we need to make sure that we have current information on poverty so that progress is not reversed.

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