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Rethinking poverty measurement

Most people can recognise poverty when they see it. Far harder, however, is accurately measuring poverty, an important first step on the path towards improving people’s lives and achieving the global goal of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, and for everyone.

Since 2008, researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have been working on a new approach to measuring poverty – an approach that is sensitive to gender and other social characteristics, that is just and justifiable, and is able to provide information on which to act to end poverty.

2020 marked an important milestone in this work, with the launch of a new research program: the Individual Measurement of Multidimensional Poverty (IMMP) program within the Crawford School of Public Policy’s Poverty and Inequality Research Centre.

The IMMP program builds on more than a decade of research, which began with qualitative research using participatory methods across six countries. That research aimed to understand from the perspective of women and men living in poverty, what decision makers need to know to address poverty and what dimensions make up multidimensional poverty. Funded from an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, that research resulted in a new approach to measuring poverty, called the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) during its development.

From 2016-2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided $11 million to further develop the Measure and test it in a range of countries and contexts. The result is a measure of multidimensional poverty that is sensitive to gender and to other social characteristics (such as age and disability status); assesses at the individual rather than the household level; identifies different levels of poverty; and provides a basis for action.

In mid-2020, with development and testing completed, the Measure was renamed the Individual Measure of Multidimensional Poverty (IMMP).

Throughout the development of the IMMP, the ANU team has collaborated with other research institutions, government agencies and civil society organisations. “The resulting measure really is ground-breaking,” said Sharon Bessell, a professor at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. “It is sensitive to gender in ways that no other mainstream measure of poverty is, and that is incredibly important. It also enables intersectional analysis of the ways various social characteristics – gender, age, disability, for example – shape the nature and experience of poverty.”

Professor Bessell added that the strength of the IMMP is the information base it provides for policy, programs and services to address poverty.

Throughout 2020, a team of researchers at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific has worked closely with the University of Hasanuddin in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and with local government agencies and civil society organisations, to identify the policy implications of the 2018 study which was undertaken there using the new Measure.

The IMMP is a powerful example of the ways in which research can lead to positive, practical change – with the potential to improve the lives of millions.

More information on the IMMP, and on the findings of studies in Indonesia and South Africa, is available at https://immp.crawford.anu.edu.au/

Research funded by: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Research Council

Related website: https://immp.crawford.anu.edu.au/

Related research: Professor Sharon Bessell

For more information email immp.crawford@anu.edu.au

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team