Currently, we measure the poverty of households, not individuals, but the reality is that an elderly grandmother and her twenty-year-old grandson living under the same roof experience deprivation in different ways and to different degrees. Right now, we don’t capture those differences, hiding inequalities within the home and making it harder to target policies and programs to the world’s poor. The Australian Government has invested $9.5 million in a new gender-sensitive poverty metric, the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), which aims to address data gaps and improve policy, not just by measuring at the individual level, but also by assessing poverty on multiple dimensions beyond money, including access to food, clothing, family planning, and freedom from violence.
Results & Impact
Several studies have shown that the IDM is able to reveal differences in deprivation by gender, age and disability, and within households, which current poverty metrics are blind to. In Nepal, initial analysis of IDM data showed that on average, men personally own 61% more assets than women, information that is hidden when measuring assets by household. In Fiji, measuring fuel use by individuals revealed that women were exposed to 1 hour and 45 minutes per day of fumes related to cooking and heating, compared to 24 minutes per day for men, and that more than twice as many women as men suffered health problems linked to unclean cooking and heating fuel. The IDM has the potential to provide data for some 25% of the gender-related SDGs.
The Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), The Australian National University (ANU), organisations involved in research
Researchers asked thousands of poor people in several countries how they would define poverty and deprivation and what issues mattered for changing their circumstances. The 15 dimensions of life that comprise the IDM include family planning, clothing, health, voice and violence. Data is collected from individuals via a survey, with data collectors going from house to house. They use a tablet to collect information. The survey is securely downloaded and stored, and analysed by researchers in collaboration with government and NGO partners so as to focus on aspects of the data that are most interesting and useful.
Australia (research headquarters), Philippines, Fiji, Nepal, Indonesia, and several other countries yet to be confirmed
Women and girls, low-income people, the elderly, rural population, ethnic minorities, disabled people
Cost & Value
The Australian Government has invested $9.5 million in the IDM. Various sampling strategies are being tested, so the cost of undertaking a study using the IDM is still being determined. As the IDM can provide data about 15 key economic and social dimensions from one survey, it has the potential to be very cost-effective where there are significant data gaps.
It has been piloted in several countries and will be ready for global use by 2020.
Challenges include measuring a wider range of factors other than poverty measures without taking too much time, and being able to aggregate this information into an overall ‘score’ that is meaningful and can be compared across contexts. Another challenge comes from seeking insight into deprivation within the household. The IDM currently involves interviewing multiple individuals in a household, which brings potential ethical and safety issues given the IDM includes questions about sensitive topics such as having a voice in decision-making and violence. IDM researchers are testing different sampling methods and will follow up with some survey respondents to make sure participation has not had unforeseen consequences. Another challenge is ensuring data security and confidentiality while still making the data open and accessible.
Currently, we measure the poverty of households, and not individuals. However, different members of family – from an elderly grandmother to her twenty-year-old grandson – experience deprivation in different ways and to different degrees. At the moment, we don’t capture those inequalities within the home, limiting our ability to accurately target policies for the world’s poor.
The Australian government has invested $9.5 million in a new multidimensional poverty metric, the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM), which aims to close these information gaps by providing the first ever gender-sensitive tool to measure poverty at the individual level.
“In measuring at household level we can’t see the different needs and priorities of individuals within,” said Bettina Baldeschi, the Director of the IDM. “Being a woman with a disability, being 70 years old, living in a rural area, and being from an ethnic minority – these factors all intersect to shape a person’s life.”
The tool allows for accurate disaggregation of data by gender, age, disability, ethnicity, religion, and geographic location. “That rich data will help policymakers understand more about the nature and depth of poverty so they can better target policy and programs,” said Baldeschi.
Unlike the World Bank’s International Poverty line, set now at $1.90 a day, the IDM measures deprivation beyond money. It assesses poverty on 15 different dimensions, grounded in the views of people with lived experience of poverty.
The measure was created through a four-year, multidisciplinary international research collaboration with thousands of participants in Angola, Fiji, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique and the Philippines.
“We started by asking men and women what mattered to them, not making assumptions,” said Baldeschi. “Using this participatory methodology, we built our measure from the ground up, based on what poor people said mattered.”
“In measuring at household level, we can’t see the different needs and priorities of individuals within”
Unsurprisingly, when men and women were asked how they would define and measure poverty, they gave different answers.
“We found that family planning, sanitation, education, and health care were some dimensions mentioned more often by women, while men were more likely to mention employment and access to electricity as dimensions of deprivation,” said Baldeschi.
Men and women also tended to describe different levels of control over the decisions that affect their lives, and different opportunities to change their situation. For example, in Malawi a woman noted that when times are difficult, men can find short-term casual labour. Women have limited options (because of mobility, education or social constraints) and often must turn to prostitution.
“It’s not to say that money doesn’t matter. But it’s not the only thing that matters”
“It’s not to say that money doesn’t matter. But it’s not the only thing that matters. If you are a woman in a rural environment, is it money that matters to you most? Or is it actually being free from violence, having access to food, water, and having control over your reproductive health?” said Baldeschi.
“Poverty is multidimensional – and it doesn’t look the same for everyone,” she added.
Eventually, the IDM aims to be a tool that can be used by national bureaus of statistics, as well as intergovernmental and international organisations. But, for now, the tool is still being refined and tested to be ready for a global launch in 2020.
“Now we’re in the phase of really testing its performance in different contexts. We’re looking at samples of two, three, four thousand people in various countries: Fiji, Nepal, Indonesia, potentially South Africa, Timor Leste and Myanmar, so very different contexts,” said Baldeschi.
Data collectors are going house-to-house to individually survey adults. The data collectors are, for the most part, local firms already doing similar work. They are trained in using the IDM and supervised to ensure the tool is being used as intended.
“Poverty is multidimensional – and it doesn’t look the same for everyone”
The data is collected on a tablet, downloaded and stored securely, and later analysed by researchers. “A key step for us is to go back into the country and review initial findings with governments and other stakeholders,” said Baldeschi. “That helps us to know whether we need to further refine the measure and to learn what is of most interest to policymakers.”
Several studies have shown that the IDM can reveal differences in deprivation by gender, age and disability, and within households, which are hidden by current poverty metrics. In Nepal, initial analysis of IDM data suggests that on average men personally own 61% more assets than women, information that is hidden by measuring overall household assets.
In Fiji, measuring fuel use by individuals revealed that women on average were exposed to 1 hour 45 minutes per day of fumes related to cooking and heating, compared to 24 minutes per day for men. More than twice as many women as men suffered health problems linked to unclean cooking and heating fuel.
However, some risks are yet to be fully resolved. Interviewing multiple members of a household makes ethical and safety issues a first order priority. Working closely with specialists on researching violence, IDM researchers are exploring different sampling methods to maximise participants’ safety.
“Men were more likely to mention employment and access to electricity as dimensions of deprivation”
“We will also go back to some households after data collection to make sure there aren’t any unforeseen consequences of participating,” said Baldeschi.
Another challenge is ensuring the data itself is kept safe while still making it open and accessible. “The program includes a strong technology component; with respondent confidentiality and data security a priority at every point,” said Baldeschi.
The measure is part of a broader effort by the Australian Government to help close the gender data gap. While 53 of the 230 SDG indicators are gender-related, there is no agreed-upon methodology and limited data availability for close to 70% of these. The IDM has the potential to provide relevant data for some 25% of the gender-related indicators, to help track what is changing, for whom.
While the IDM is the first of its kind, the limitations of current poverty measurement approaches are widely recognised. “The World Bank is interested in what we’re doing, in the context of assessing potential approaches to individual-level poverty measurement,” said Baldeschi.
“Lot’s of others are thinking about this – because it is important. It hasn’t been done before because it is challenging. But we are confident that the current investment from the Australian Government will enable the IDM to realise its innovative potential.”
(Picture credit: Flickr/UN Women)