Last week the ‘Chronic Poverty Report 2014-2015: The road to zero extreme poverty’ was launched. The report has an eye towards the post-2015 agenda and the global development framework that will follow the MDGs, suggesting a goal and targets to take extreme poverty to a minimum. I’m going to reflect on the Chronic Poverty Report (CPR) based on CAFOD’s participatory research how change happens in the lives of some of the poorest people in Bolivia, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Philippines.
During the launch event, two main critiques were put forwards.
This year’s CPR includes a focus on people who sink back into poverty – the ‘churning’ that happens when people exit poverty for a short period of time before sinking back. Oxfam’s Duncan Green argued that bringing this aspect of poverty in diluted the focus on chronic poverty. The counter argument from ODI’s Andrew Shepherd was that without addressing the endless cycling of people exiting and re-entering poverty, sustained progress is not possible. The CPR’s approach tallies with CAFOD’s recent participatory research findings, where individuals and communities experienced deteriorated wellbeing because of systemic risks (such as environmental degradation, violent conflict, forced displacement, and political and economic crises), and individual shocks (ill health, decreasing returns from farming, and increasing unreliable and casual employment) which brought people back into poverty, even after sustained progress over long periods of time.
Secondly, many people were frustrated by the report’s continued use of $1.25 a day as the metric through which poverty is measured. Although the authors acknowledged that poverty is multidimensional , they’ve stuck with the conventional measure. Likewise, I’d agree that we need to move beyond a simplistic measure to understand and address the complex realities of people’s lives, such as the multi-poverty indicator suggested by the OPHI, but one that involves citizens directly in order to understand their perspectives and experiences of poverty.
Churning and metrics aside, the new CPR has a lot to offer. It looks at a range of policy initiatives that resonate with what people told us in the participatory research.
The CPR looks at a wide range of interventions to tackle chronic poverty that look at decent work through addressing poor working conditions, lack of security, low wages, and unemployment. From listening to people’s experiences of poverty, CAFOD found that a central demand of those living in poverty is either access to employment or the means to build a sustainable livelihood. Income from farming is often no longer sufficient and other previously viable livelihoods are unable to guarantee dignified living conditions. As Mrs Bhebhe, 58 from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, says: The first thing anyone needs is a job. We all need to be employed to fight poverty.’
The CPR also calls for secure land-tenure systems for the poorest to create sustained escapes from rural poverty. Across our research locations, people wanted access to and control over productive assets, namely land. Yet access to land alone may not be enough to achieve a viable livelihood, particularly in the face of increasing impacts of climate change, natural disasters and conflict. These means prioritising conflict prevention, building resilience, and including disaster risk reduction.
The CPR emphasises the fundamental role of education. This echoes findings from our own research where participants in our research told us that education was one of the most important services in their lives, but that they often only had access to poor quality schools and teaching. When they send their children to school, they need an investment which is worthwhile. When the quality of education is low, it not only fails them by failing to provide opportunities, it can embed them deeper in poverty as they spend less time bringing in income.
I was also impressed by the call for transformative social change in the CPR. Our research shows that changes in social norms over the last 10 to 15 years have represented a considerable improvement for specific groups of people who previously experienced the greatest exclusion and discrimination, including people living with HIV and indigenous peoples, and that this can be connected to the emphasis placed on addressing attitudes and stigma under the MDGs.
But the Chronic Poverty report fails to translate these important policies into targets. If land and education are key to people moving out of poverty, why is there so little focus on them in the targets? If social inclusion and ending discrimination are fundamental to changing people’s lives, why have they been ignored in the proposed goal?
In the post-2015 process, we’re learning that it’s what you measure that matters – so it’s time to get the targets rights to address chronic poverty.