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Statistics, Development and Human Rights

compounded by the inaccuracy or poor quality of some of the aggregate data being utilised, and the non-availability of reliable data on many income and non-income achievements of large segments of a population.

In this paper, we will explore some of the problems of measuring human development by looking at one of the measures – namely the poverty index – that has been specifically designed to identify the proportion of the population that has been unable to obtain the basic conditions of life, or the resources to gain access to those basic conditions. The two related questions will be

Does the measure really indicate human development levels; and

Can it be assumed that any reductions in the poverty levels observed mean improvements in social and human development?

These questions acquire particular meaning and significance in light of the definitions of human development referred to earlier, and the role that poverty reduction is increasingly expected to play in the development process. Put another way: to what extent might the improvements in social well-being that may be so indicated linked with or stimulate human capital development and /or the opportunities for being productive and having secure livelihoods?

3. The Poverty Index – The Jamaican Experience

In the Latin American and Caribbean region, the specific case of Jamaica has been selected because so far it is one of the few countries in which annual Surveys of Living Conditions have been successfully conducted since 1989.  Initially inspired and sponsored  by the World Bank, and subsequently supported by the government, these surveys have developed, tested and applied specific poverty assessment instruments, and have also systematically collected data on a range of social and economic variables. There is now a rich data set that can permit some trend analyses, as well as assist the processes of policy formulation and evaluation.

The poverty measures utilised are entirely based on reported consumption expenditures at the household level. The principal reason for this is the long-standing and well-documented difficulty in obtaining reliable data on income and earnings [World Bank, 1994]. Since consumption expenditure data are more easily obtained, can be smoothed over income cycles, and should reflect the inputs from different and/or varying income sources, the use of these data has come to be the preferred option. The difficulty of obtaining accurate income data is not peculiar to Jamaica, and the use of consumption data has acquired a fair degree of legitimacy and acceptance in official and academic circles.  Given its relatively long experience with the development of this measure the Jamaican experience could therefore provide useful information about the accuracy and validity of consumption-based poverty assessments.  

The problem is a complex one, and as Strobel [1996] has observed, “poverty of conditions of existence is not simply a matter of unequal income”; nor for that matter, of unequal consumption levels. This paper will not be concerned with the larger issues such as whether or not the focus ought to be on relative versus absolute poverty; nor will it address the problems related to socio-cultural variations in definition and meaning or the larger issue of how to measure and incorporate the question of social exclusion.

The very specific focus will be on the problem of utilising a consumption measure in societies where the assumed linkages between the labour market structure, dynamics and participation, earnings and income, and consumption patterns and behaviours may either not exist, or be in the forms usually expected. It has been shown that equivalencies in the value or meaning of particular consumption levels, or between identified levels of income and consumption cannot be assumed, and need to be established. Ideally, there really ought to be an „examination of the relationships

Montreux, 4. – 8. 9. 2000

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