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Poverty statistics: “national ownership” and “international comparability”

Taking feelings away, the famous quote by Leo Tolstoy: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, could be easily applied to poverty. It is a widespread belief that life is easier for the relatively rich than for the poor. More importantly, however, every poor person is poor in her own way. With the new SDG poverty indicator “Proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”, statisticians are faced with a new task. They now need to develop indicators that show not only how many people are poor but also in which way people are poor.

Statisticians at both senior and expert levels gathered last week in Sochi, Russian Federation for a three day high-level seminar to discuss challenges in producing poverty related SDG indicators and meeting new demands for poverty statistics. Among the issues countries face are the lack of information sources for the calculation of individual SDG indicators and their disaggregation, the need to clarify definitions for a number of indicators, as well as the need to recognize and address the differences between national and international methodologies and definitions.

The emerging topic of multidimensional poverty raised a lot of interest. Health, education and living standards are the three main ingredients of the global multidimensional poverty index. Careful selection of additional country-specific dimensions and indicators, as for example job security, housing, malnutrition or access to heating, are used to adapt the index to national needs. The multidimensional measures are useful to guide policies, and monitor progress. While it sometimes takes a generation for the income data to reflect a change in the household situation, this is not the case with the multidimensional measures. Based on the multidimensional index, the policy makers can quickly identify who is poor and react immediately to the need for re-directing resources to policy areas where they are most needed.

Participants recognized the importance of increasing understanding of the challenges to improve poverty statistics among policymakers and other users of statistics. They also highlighted several areas for improvement in poverty statistics, such as the need for regular conduct of household surveys with sufficient sample size and data enough to produce the needed disaggregation types. The data should meet standard quality requirements, during both data collection and data production processes. In this context, participants emphasized the need for harmonized poverty measures for CIS countries and supported the UNECE project “Harmonized poverty indicators for monitoring sustainable development”.

Countries also welcomed the work on the forthcoming UNECE Guide on poverty measurement to be published at the end of 2017, and once again stressed their expectations on practical guidance, concrete recommendations and examples to learn from each other.

Details of the meeting, including papers and presentations, can be found at http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=43384#/.