Rights-Based Poverty Line

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David Woodward:

"The RBPL approach is based on the estimated statistical relation between income and indicators of well-being which correspond to different economic and social rights (health, nutrition, education, etc). By setting a single universal threshold level of the indicator concerned, and establishing the income at which that level is actually achieved in each country, we can in principle define a poverty line for each country which is at a different level of income, but gives rise to an equivalent standard of living in each country.

This approach, we argue, both avoids the issues arising from “input-based” approaches and resolves the problems inherent in any global poverty line defined in terms of incomes, while maintaining consistency between countries. We present estimates of RBPLs for six countries (Bolivia, Eqypt, India (rural and urban), Nicaragua, Senegal and South Africa) using the infant mortality rate as an indicator of the right to child survival, based on four alternative threshold levels. This demonstrates the wide range of incomes required to achieve equivalent living standards in different countries. Having established a set of poverty lines, there are two ways in which poverty can be reduced – either by increasing incomes to the level at which rights are fulfilled, or by reducing the income required to fulfil each right.

The picture of poverty this approach presents is much more complex than those generated by other approaches, and particularly the single “poverty headcount” (and largely ignored “poverty gap”) figures generated by approaches based on a single global poverty line defined in “dollars per day”. In the RBPL approach, we have multiple dimensions of poverty – health, nutrition, education, housing, access to water and sanitation, etc. In each of these dimensions, we have four indicators – the poverty line itself, the proportion of the population below it, the poverty gap (reflecting the extent to which incomes are below the RBPL) and the rights gap (indicating the extent to which rights are not fulfilled as a result of poverty).

However, this complexity is inevitable if we are to obtain a meaningful picture of the multi-faceted issue of global poverty, and we present a simple graphical approach to present poverty comparisons between countries and over time.

Through this approach, the RBPL can provide us with much more relevant information than the simple headline figures of “dollar-a-day” approaches. For example, we can distinguish the extent to which poverty arises from low incomes and from low living standards at a given level of incomes in each country, and assess the relative importance in each case of income generation and (for example) improving access to health services or education; we can identify priority areas in which access to services most needs to be improved for low-income households; and we can avoid the misleading interpretation that poverty is falling where rising incomes are off-set by falling living standards relative to income." (http://neweconomics.org/2010/07/how-poor-is-poor/)

More information

  • 3 other approaches are:
  1. Kakwani and Son’s International Food Poverty Line (global/input-based);
  2. Peter Edward’s Ethical Poverty Line (global/outcome-based); and
  3. Morris et al’s Minimum Income for Healthy Living, and Reddy et al’s Capability-Based Approach (country-specific/input-based)