Poverty Measurement: Guide to data disaggregation adopted by UNECE

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has adopted a Guide to Poverty Measurement and data disaggregation which is now formally endorsed by the Conference of European Statisticians (CES). The CES sets international statistical norms and standards for use in 60 European and other countries. The purpose of the Guide is to provide methodological and practical guidance on poverty disaggregation in order to enhance further international harmonisation. It includes references to the UK Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) projects and subsequent work (see especially Chapter 5).

The Task Force which developed the guide included the National Statistical Offices of Austria, Canada, Czechia, Italy, Mexico, Slovakia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Professor David Gordon was asked by Statistics Austria to suggest a recommendation on deprivation measures - which was adopted at the United Nations Economic and Social Council Sixty-eighth plenary session in Geneva on 22–24 June 2020.

Recommendation 28 draws from our work on the methodology for determining deprivation measures for the European Union:

a) Deprivation measures need to be based upon a clear and explicit theory or normative definition of poverty in order to ensure that each indicator is a valid measure, i.e. that it measures poverty and not some other related (or unrelated) concept such as wellbeing or happiness.

b) The validity of each indicator should be demonstrated, i.e. the amount of systematic error should be formally assessed and indicators should be dropped if they have a low validity.

c) The reliability of each indicator should be determined, i.e. the amount of random error should be formally assessed and indicators should be dropped if they have a low reliability.

d) A deprivation or poverty index should only ever be weighted if this results in a reduction in measurement error, i.e. if the differential weights improve the validity and/or reliability of the index.

Other Recommendations that might be of interest include Recommendation 29 on child poverty:

a) Countries should use available datasets, such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) or household surveys to develop child-specific and life-cycle adapted multidimensional poverty measures that reflect the needs of children at different stages of development and allow for identification of intra-household differences between children. This type of measure can be performed at intervals of 3-5 years to complement more frequent disaggregated national measures, as this will give greater insight into childhood and adolescent poverty.

b) In order to enhance availability and use of child poverty data, countries should collect data on all key dimensions related to children’s rights, including health and nutrition, and introduce lifecycle appropriate indicators to measure the situation of each child in the household. Countries should consider introducing innovative ways to collect, monitor and report on child poverty data, including ways to encourage child participation in the monitoring and discussion of child poverty data and potential policy responses.

c) In accordance with national definitions of monetary and multidimensional poverty, countries should revise and adopt survey tools to best serve their national needs for poverty measurements. Both household budget surveys (HBS) and MICS are flexible and can be adapted to reflect a national context, but without compromising cross-country comparability. MICS offers the potential to obtain data on a broader list of child-focused indicators that can be used to measure multidimensional child poverty.

d) Statistical data is an important source for evidence-based decision making by policy makers, not only at national but also at regional and international level. Therefore, it is important to make anonymised statistical data openly available for all users. To meet data protection and confidentiality concerns, efforts must be taken to ensure that the identity of respondents is not disclosed or can be inferred. Hence countries should make all poverty-related data, including micro-data, publicly available and easily accessible for scientific research and production purposes. This would enhance research, policy design and policy innovation in this field, which is of utmost importance for devising policies for poverty reduction.

Recommendation 26 on intrahousehold poverty measurement may also be of interest:

a) In the immediate term, official poverty rates, collected at the household level, should be routinely disaggregated by sex and age of each household member. This shall provide estimates for the poverty rate of prime age women who have children and/or live without a partner (e.g. in lone parent households).

b) More research is needed to determine how best to address intra-household resource sharing in order to develop sub-household measures of poverty status. This is particularly important for the disaggregation of poverty estimates by sex and age. Surveys should continue to experiment with questions designed to determine individual control of resources and to measure material deprivation at the person level.

c) Where possible, official poverty rates for men, women, children or other socio-demographic subgroups should be accompanied by results that consider unequal sharing of resources. At a minimum, national statistical offices should carry out sensitivity analysis for poverty profiles contrasting the conventional full pooling assumption with partial pooling and full separation of resources.

d) To validate assumptions on within-household distribution of economic resources, these should be considered in combination with material living standards, wherever possible. Questions on sharing of personal economic resources and/or personal material living standard have been used in EU–SILC. Before such questions are adapted it should however be ensured by pre-tests that sharing of resources is not considered as sensitive by respondents.

You can also find further details on the consultation outcome in the CES Summary note.  An updated paper copy of the electronic Guide will be published by the end of the year.

NOTE: the first UN Handbook on Poverty Statistics was published in 2005, it primarily focused on rather narrow definitions of monetary poverty measurement from a mainly econometric perspective.  In 2006, the Compendium of Best Practices in Poverty Measurement was published by the United Nations Expert Group on Poverty Statistics (Rio Group).  This Compendium involved poverty experts from both National Statistics Offices and academia from 22 countries and 18 regional or international organizations, between 1996 and 2006, and provided a much broader perspective on poverty measurement.  A number of UN Regional Organizations, such as UNECE, have subsequently published recommendations on poverty measurement which include recent technical developments and theoretical advances in poverty measurement.

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