Specialists and policymakers discuss tools for measuring and reducing poverty: Day 1
Brasília, November 25th 2014: Social development policy models aimed at overcoming poverty and extreme poverty represent major topics of discussion, especially in light of the Millennium Development Goals deadline and recent discussions on the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. With this in mind, the first International Seminar – World Without Poverty, took place in Brasilia from 18-19 November, aimed at stimulating debate on the agenda for overcoming poverty and inequality, and exploring the challenges faced in achieving a world without poverty.
The Brazilian Learning Initiative for a World Without Poverty (WWP) works to disseminate experiences, best practices and innovations on social programmes and associated management technologies. WWP is the result of a partnership between the World Bank, the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger of Brazil (MDS), the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP). The Seminar was also supported by the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of Brazil’s Presidency (SAE/PR) and UNDP’s RIO+ Centre.
The event was opened with words from Tereza Campello (Minister of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger, Brazil) who emphasized how poverty is something that can be overcome, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the two day Seminar. Jorge Chediek (UNDP Brazil resident representative) thanked the IPC-IG for its WWP initiatives and noted how WWP is part of the global MDG agenda to eliminate poverty and hunger.
Poverty, inequality and inclusive growth
The Opening Session, titled “What does a world without poverty mean?” explored whether ending poverty means overcoming a monetary line or providing a minimum level of well-being. Furthermore, it assessed the role of the concepts of multidimensional and relative poverty.
James Foster (Professor of Economics and International Affairs, George Washington University) presented “Why Multidimensional Poverty?”, exposing how poverty exists beyond monetary terms, such as housing and nutrition, despite the traditional monetary understanding of poverty being the officially endorsed one in many countries. He demonstrated how establishing growth targets in terms of essential human needs is a political task which countries must determine whether to prioritise stating, “Will counties have the will to overcome multidimentsional poverty?”.
Multidimensional poverty (MDP) is a complementary global method integrating many established approaches of analysing poverty. It incorporates multiple attributes of poverty so that if a person is understood to be poor, they are deprived in multiple dimensions. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) involves three dimensions with multiple indicators allowing for the calculation of a deprivation score for an individual. Foster noted how the MPI shows different results to income poverty assessments. Furthermore, the MPI is able to show results earlier into evaluation as it assesses direct impacts. Foster concluded by stating that “the goal is a world without poverty, however it is measured”.
Murray Leibbrandt (Professor of Economics, University of Cape Town) then granted insight into the South African case. Post-Apartheid, policy makers and researchers chose to look beyond the income perspective of poverty, adopting a more holistic approach with the aim of achieving a comprehensive transformation in the standard of living for the country’s poor. He recognised how such an approach is challenging at the government institutional level as it demands extensive coordination. What’s more, “the process for deriving a poverty line is a social issue, not simply a technical one”. There are challenges in establishing a poverty line as it endorses a standard of living, which may not be acceptable in terms of ensuring the dignity of all citizens. This was particularly pertinent with respect to the South African case, where catering to income poverty alone would not account for many other social injustices accompanying poverty.
Even so, Leibbrandt recognised how unemployment and low wages present major challenges in South Africa, rendering the income based poverty line of relevance. Therefore a serious interrogation of the monetary line is essential to poverty discourse. Both MDP and income poverty are relevant. MDP caters to ensuring the rights of citizens are realized and assessing whether investment in these rights has productive consequences. In South Africa, especially with respect to schooling, grants are having very limited second round effects; reducing poverty but not providing a pathway out of it. Leibbrandt stated that a synergy between MDP and income poverty is therefore necessary to generate maximum externalities.
Selim Jahan (Director of the Human Development Report Office, UNDP) presented the human development perspective of a world without poverty. This understanding of overcoming poverty involves enhanced choices, extended capabilities and opportunities and the security to ensure choices and income for all, stating “opportunities determine outcomes”. Therefore, income represents a component, not the sum total, of understanding deprivation.
He went on to explore the notion of minimum wellbeing. He emphasized how measures of wellbeing must have a strong theoretical foundation, that they need to be aggregated (gender, race etc.) and that quantitative measures must be supplemented and complemented by qualitative data. He then exposed how inequality has economic, social and political implications, resulting in inequality being seen as a form of injustice among many societies. Therefore social cohesion as well as political consequence and stability are essential to account for in understanding poverty.
In the questions session which followed, Foster stated how “inequality is fundamentally an inclusive growth issue”. Leibbrandt went on to point out that in light of the Global Financial Crisis and the pervasive inequality of the developing world, the fact that there appear to be no returns on government investments in overcoming poverty, does not mean the policies should be done away with.
What drives poverty reduction in Brazil
The Second Session, “Overcoming Extreme Poverty – The Brazilian Experience” included presentations of the Brazilian experience in terms of formulation, implementation and monitoring of the Brazil without Extreme Poverty Plan and its main results, followed by critical evaluation from the commentators.
Tereza Campello (Minister of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger, Brazil) pointed out how Bolsa Familia is not the only reason for Brazil’s success in reducing poverty, it is a component of a socio-economic model for reducing poverty. Therefore the increasing incomes of citizens can be attributed to an increase in the minimum wage, policy for incentivizing the formalization of jobs, strengthening family farming and incentivizing food production, Bolsa Familia, and crucially, the government prioritizing poverty reduction.
Nora Lustig (Professor of Latin American Economics, Tulane University) then explored inequality in Latin America, noting how inequality has fallen and the middle class has expanded. She attributed this to a decrease in inequality in hourly labour income, larger and more progressive transfers, lower dependency ratios and higher participation rates of adults, exposing the essential role of the labour market in reducing inequality.
Margaret Grosh (Lead Economist for Human Development in the Latin American and Caribbean Region, World Bank) noted the successful impact of Bolsa Familia in terms of breast feeding and grade repetition in Brazil. She also recognised the administrative success of Cadastro Único, the national single registry database used to identify poor families in Brazil. She referenced the importance of early childhood development which Brazil has had success in improving. Overall, Brazil has been persistent and innovative in its social policy aimed at reducing poverty which is seen its results.
Emir Sader (Professor at Rio de Janeiro State University) explored the history and the impact of social services and concentration of income in Brazil. He noted how today Brazil is a middle income country although still highly unequal meaning there is still a lot of work to do for the poor. On this count, mobilizing public awareness and support for social programmes is important. Furthermore, political barriers to improving basic services need to be overcome.
Previous WWP events posted on the IPC-IG Press Room:
Publications on Brasil Sem Miseria:
Author: Ashleigh Kate Slingsby
Short URL: http://pressroom.ipc-undp.org/?p=16718