As part of our work on reducing poverty, the PPIW convened an evidence workshop to explore what is known about alternative approaches to poverty reduction. The workshop brought together a select group of leading academics, senior policy makers, and practitioners from organisations including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Children’s Commissioner and Bevan Foundation.
Welsh Government officials described its approach and what they saw as the main evidence gaps relating to what works in reducing poverty. Invited experts gave presentations on the merits of alternative ways of thinking about poverty and attempting to reduce it and discussed the evidence which underpins them. The workshops explored five main frameworks:
- A human rights based approach by Dr Simon Hoffman, Swansea University;
- An equalities approach by Kate Bennett, Equality and Human Rights Commission (Wales);
- A capabilities approach by Richard Brunner, University of Glasgow and What Works Scotland;
- A human development approach by Dr Sabine Alkire and Dr Gisela Roble Aguilar, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative; and
- A sustainable livelihoods approach by Oxfam.
Link to blogs about these topics can be found above.
This blog draws out some of the general points highlighted by the workshop discussion.
Workshop participants agreed that poverty is not simply about a lack of financial resources but involves a much broader range of factors including health, social interaction, education, and employment opportunities. The Welsh Government recognises this in its definition of poverty adopted in its revised child poverty strategy. However, experts argued that more needed to be done to encourage the use of broader definitions and measures of poverty by policy makers. The conventional definition of poverty as 60% below the median income was seen as a very blunt tool which misses key dimensions of the experience of poverty. It was also noted that the ability of the Welsh Government to influence income was limited. It therefore makes sense for it to measure aspects of poverty which it can realistically expect to have an impact on. Experts pointed to the importance of:
- Measures of absolute poverty – which are helpful for understanding the experience of those who are destitute and in need of most support and is particularly relevant to a human rights based approach;
- Measures of relative poverty – which need to be disaggregated by identity group to increase understanding of inequality trends in Wales and are important to an equality based approach;
- A more nuanced and participatory understanding of the qualitative aspects of poverty – which explores elements of poverty beyond income and is important to a capabilities based approach;
- Giving sufficient weight to multiple deprivation indices which can provide a better understanding of policy impact and is something that has been adopted in the human development approach; and
- Listening to the voices of people who are experiencing poverty – experts agreed that this input was often lacking in policy debates and is vital to the sustainable livelihoods approach.
As well as the measures of poverty, experts discussed data and evidence needs. They highlighted some of the limitations of current data including:
- The data that are used are very broad and mostly only available at a Wales wide level;
- There is a lack of dynamic data which would allow analysis of who is moving in and out of poverty;
- There is very little disaggregation of the data to see if different groups are being disproportionally affected by poverty;
- Data often lack consistency and evidence is extrapolated from different data sets and not over regular time periods; and
- The data are not often comparable across the UK.
The discussions also highlighted other issues relating to data analysis. Some experts argued that there is a need to increase the skills base and resources required to analyse existing data. And it was suggested that a gap analysis was needed to identify what is known and what is unknown and to assess how evidence gaps can be filled and what data analysis would be needed to do this.
We will be publish a report on the workshop later this year. Victoria Winkler’s recent blog is also an excellent contribution to this debate. We would advocate anyone who is working in this area to have a read through these blogs and consider how the different approaches may be suitable for your own work.
For further details about this or if you would like to contribute to our on-going work in this area please contact Emyr Williams – Emyr.Williams@PPIW.org.uk
About the author: Emyr Williams is a Senior Research Officer at PPIW. Emyr Williams has particular responsibility for leading the PPIW’s work on tackling poverty, one of the strategic issues that we have agreed with Welsh Ministers that we will focus over the next two to three years. He has experience of working in Local Government and the third sector. Prior to joining the Institute, Emyr was a Principal Research Officer at Cardiff Council and has also worked as a project manager for a youth charity and overseeing European funded projects in areas of high deprivation.