Saturday, February 24, 2018

Making poverty invisible

The Minister of Social Development and Family Services, Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, is quoted as saying the 2014 poverty report does not make sense. Based on advice received from UNECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean)and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), she announced the correct figure for poverty in our country is not 24.5 per cent, but eight per cent.
She threw both CSO (Central Statistical Office) and Kairi Consultants under the proverbial bus because of “editing issues, arguable procedures and estimation errors in the statistical analysis”. Doubt was been cast due to “a lack of accuracy or consistency with the 2005 estimate” which stood at 17 per cent. She is therefore arguing that poverty incidence has been halved.
This is not a statistical issue to be confined to nerds since it has serious implications because of the social dimensions of poverty. In our country it takes on great importance because of the ethnic group of those at the bottom, their geographical location and the lack of educational opportunity, along with proper health care for the poor of all races. Poverty is the worst form of violence and can contribute to an unsafe society. It has a negative impact on both the national security and health budgets of our nation. It contributes to reduced national productivity.
Poverty measurement is a highly politicised and contested issue capable of being defined in different ways: an ill-structured, complex issue that hides daily pain.
Lives depend on this assessment. Minister Cockburn should not make this disappear. She has to realise if she does not know and she goes to the “experts”, they have the opportunity to advance their agenda.
No multilateral institution wants to freely admit their advice and its implementation are failing. Most of the disagreements noted could be the outcome of a sharp divergence of views about how to measure and what represents poverty.
The UNDP Human Development Report (2003) declares “a comprehensive and reliable statistical global survey of severe poverty, basic living conditions and basic social indicators has never been conducted”. The methodological debate still rages.
The minister is right about using the 2005 results as a sense check, but I urge her to look at the whole trend from 1989 and discover that the 24 per cent is not outside the pale of possibilities. Was the lot of our citizens improved even as we enjoyed out-sized GDP growth or did economic inequality grow?
A short answer is the increase in the number of squatters, the condition and output of our schools and the wait in our hospitals. Minister Cockburn should discuss the effectiveness of the social net with the NGOs who wrestle with reality.
The 2018 measurement should be left completely in the hands of a properly resourced and independent CSO. The ministry should not be involved in the judging of its own performance.
It is sad that Dr Ralph Henry, of Kairi Consultants, the “lone wolf” of poverty measurement in our country, has been so treated.
The poor cannot wait cloaked in invisibility.
Noble Philip
Blue Range