A post-2015 headline indicator of multidimensional poverty

Poverty is more than a lack of income. A million voices have said so in the A Million Voices: World We Want report.

A post-2015 agenda in which the headline indicator of poverty is $1.25/day will miss these insights. Further, ending $1.25/day poverty is unlikely to mean the end of the many overlapping disadvantages faced by people living in poverty, including malnutrition, poor sanitation, a lack of electricity, or ramshackle schools. At the same time, complexity can stall momentum.

That is why OPHI and 25+ governments and institutions in the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network (MPPN) are proposing that the post-2015 development goals include an integrated multidimensional poverty measure to draw attention to the bundles of deprivations poor people describe – and live.

Eradicating poverty in all its forms

This new headline indicator of multidimensional poverty for the post-2015 context – the MPI2015+ (also known as the MPI2.0) – is a balanced measure which would complement the $1.25 a day income poverty measure and show:

  • How people are poor (what disadvantages they experience at the same time);
  • To which regions or ethnic groups they belong;
  • The inequalities among those living in poverty.

By showing how different dimensions of poverty overlap and interconnect, the measure could help to break apart the silos of poverty reduction interventions. And because it shows which groups or regions are experiencing poverty most acutely, it would focus attention on the most vulnerable populations, helping to ensure no one is left behind.  It would provide political incentives to reduce the many different aspects of poverty together and would reward effective interventions.

In terms of its construction, an MPI2015+ would reflect participatory and expert inputs in terms of the dimensions and indicators chosen.  It could also incorporate economic, social and environmental dimensions of poverty, including important sustainability concerns.

Universal yet responsive to local complexities

An MPI2015+ could be both universal and responsive to national complexities. Governments or civil society organisations can also create their own national MPIs with indicators, cutoffs and values that reflect their own national plan or goals, complementing and enriching the global MPI2015+.

Just as income poverty measures come in different sizes (there are $1.25, $2.50 and $10/day international measures to fit different contexts, and nearly every government uses its own ‘national’ poverty measure), a similar but simpler structure is possible with multidimensional poverty measures.

A universal measure would have layers; that is, it would define and identify two or three degrees of poverty. It could report the number of people in ‘acute’ multidimensional poverty as well as ‘moderate’ multidimensional poverty, for example, to have relevance across all countries.

As part of its work to advance a multidimensional approach to poverty measurement after 2015, the MPPN is also calling for a data revolution. This would involve an improved household survey instrument and would result in better data, as well as better measures of poverty. OPHI’s Director Sabina Alkire has provided a detailed explanation of the shape this new survey instrument could take in a blog for the ODI.

The future of poverty measurement

In September 2013, at the High Level Meetings of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network (MPPN) held a special side-event to explore the future of multidimensional poverty measurement in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

At the event, the Network, which includes governments of Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Philippines and Nigeria, along with the World Bank, UNDP and OECD, called upon the UN to adopt a new MPI2015+ to track progress toward the new goals adopted after 2015.

Multidimensional poverty is made up of factors that constitute poor people’s experience of deprivation – which, as the participatory work of late has shown, include poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, environmental degradation, lack of income, gender discrimination, poor quality of work and violence. A multidimensional measure starts with each person and looks at the deprivations he or she experiences at the same time.

The MPI2015+ would be constructed using the Alkire Foster method of multidimensional measurement, developed at OPHI by Sabina Alkire and Professor James Foster. This flexible, open-source technology uses different ‘dimensions’ of poverty, to fit the context.

The governments of Mexico, Colombia and Bhutan, and the state governments of Minas Gerais and Sao Paolo in Brazil are among those to have adopted official multidimensional poverty measures using the Alkire Foster method. You can read about other adaptations of the method here.