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Statistics, Development and Human Rights

Miscellaneous consumption


All groups


Source: Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, 1998

It is difficult to answer this question as the aggregate consumption data continue to generate contradictory and anomalous, or at least inconclusive, findings. Home ownership and exclusive access to toilet and kitchen facilities may be used as one set of indicators of improvements in material living conditions. Between 1990-1998 the proportion of the population owning their own homes fell from 67% to 59%; among the poor the fall was from 83% to 74%. Further, the proportion of the population with exclusive use of kitchen facilities actually fell from 84% to 82% between 1992-1998. A more detailed examination of the changes within the quintiles shows that whereas in the top quintile, the situation remained constant for both types of facility, in the 2 poorest quintiles there were some fluctuations, but over the same period, the trend was generally downward:

In Quintiles one and two, exclusive use of kitchen facilities fell from 88% to 80%, and from 90% to 82%, respectively.  

In Quintiles 1 an 2, exclusive access to toilet facilities fell from 84% to 78% and 85% to 78%, respectively.

At the same time, those living “rent-free” rose from 10% to 14% - with most of the increase occurring in the bottom two quintiles. The increase in the percentage share of the commodity group – Housing – could perhaps instead be related to the increase in single and two-member households especially in the principal urban area and in the highest quintile, and the sharp increase in rented accommodation - also in the highest quintile. An accurate picture of whether or not there are qualitative improvements in the housing conditions of the poor really requires more detailed analysis within the quintiles and within the households. Even more helpful would be longitudinal analyses of panels of individuals so as to determine sources of income, and actual patterns of expenditure of that income over time.

The problem of trying to relate the flow of remittances to changing consumption levels is further compounded by the fact that most of the recorded remittances are in fact produced by a relatively small number of persons. Little is currently known about how the inflows from this group actually ripple through the economic system; but it is clearly important to be able to determine the extent to which their expenditure habits account for the widespread consumption increases being reported.

This then speaks to the one of the critical problems with near total dependence on consumption data in open, migratory economies for mapping real welfare levels and changes therein. In so far as the sources of consumption expenditures are unclear, and the precise utilisation patterns are not delineated, and there is no relationship with employment changes or investment activities little can be said about the sustainable impact on social and human development. Quite apart from possible changes in the migration flows, the characteristics of the migratory pattern can change with immediate impact on the likely level of remittances. For example, where individuals migrate leaving families behind the remittance flows are likely to be different from those when whole families migrate. A discussion of this is beyond the scope of this paper, but it helps to draw attention to the possibly ethereal nature of increased consumption levels being recorded. Finally, unless more is known about intra-household resource allocations and use, it is difficult to understand the relationships between household income and household consumption and how this might affect levels of individual poverty, and changes therein.

In Jamaica there have been a number of safety net and poverty alleviation programmes. It may be that some of the observed improvements could be due to successful the targeting of these

Montreux, 4. – 8. 9. 2000

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