Workshop on New Approaches to Poverty Measurement

20 Feb 2014

Speech
by
Kamal Malhotra
United Nations Resident Coordinator and  UNDP Resident Representative in Turkey


Vice President of Ankara University, Colleagues, Academicians, Poverty Practitioners and guests;

It is a pleasure to be here with you today on behalf of UNDP. This Workshop is very relevant given the situation in Turkey and the world, where new definitions and measurements of poverty and inequality are increasingly being discussed for policy making purposes, especially in the context of middle income countries such as Turkey. This is a period in which policy makers and practitioners are in search of more meaningful conceptual and measurement frameworks for poverty, inequality and social policy-beyond the traditional $ 1.25 a day, or other GNI or even traditional HDI based concepts and measures.

The message of this Workshop is loud and clear and is increasingly voiced in other international forums: Aggregate measures of poverty used for policy purposes often fail to provide meaningful information.  There is always more to what is visible. Even higher income countries have their own hidden challenges, particularly due to relative poverty, inequalities and inequitable access to opportunities.  Today, we will hear the findings of a study-prepared by the Levy Institute of Economics with the support of UNDP in Turkey- this study confirms that my last observation is also relevant for Turkey, an upper middle income country.

This search for new measures also comes with a desire to understand vulnerabilities in new ways. As a result of this search, human development indices, which have been calculated as measures of human development and welfare have been re-designed to capture both overall and gender specific inequalities. A multi-dimensional poverty index has also been devised although there is still a need to adapt it to the particular context of countries such as Turkey, something UNDP has worked on in other contexts such as Malaysia and hopes to also do in Turkey. There are also other attempts such as the OECD’s Better Life Index that focuses on a wider definition of welfare as opposed to income or consumption poverty. We see that many countries (e.g. Mexico, Colombia and Bhutan) are using similar alternative approaches of multi-dimensional poverty and welfare measures, including happiness related measures pioneered by Bhutan.  Our colleague Mihail Peleah from the UNDP Bratislava Regional Center will present the current debates and considerations in respect of multi-dimensional poverty calculations.

Such a debate, especially on overall and gender specific inequalities, is very important for countries such as Turkey. If we make poverty assessments for Turkey using its current poverty line of USD 4,3 per day , we may note its sharp decrease from 16 per cent to 2.3 per cent in the last 7 years. However, as much as these figures show clear progress, they fail to reflect the current situation on inequalities or life standards, especially given Turkey’s relatively high cost of living. While there are increasing efforts to calculate relative poverty in Turkey, we are also happy to see that new approaches to poverty definition and reduction, such as multi-dimensional poverty, are increasingly being debated for policy development purposes in Turkey. UNDP remains ready to support all such efforts. One example of an innovative and relevant definition of poverty is the inclusion of time-use studies in poverty analyses, the findings of which will be presented in this Conference. I must acknowledge the Turkish Statistical Institute’s efforts to improve the availability of such statistical information on poverty and social inclusion. Efforts to provide disaggregated information on those segments of society who are not immediately visible will be critical for designing appropriate policy options.

Appropriate and effective social policies are increasingly important since it is clear that market-based policies are not sufficient to create welfare and some critical policies in all societies need to be state-led. Social policies are also needed, amongst other purposes, to counter-balance income inequalities, gender inequalities, labour market inequalities and to create resilient communities.

It is increasingly voiced in Turkey that poverty has significantly reduced and employment has increased together with women’s share in the economy. There are indeed impressive developments, but employment remains high, especially but not only for youth and the women’s economic participation rate is still very low. There are also always hidden stories behind figures, particularly when they relate to vulnerable populations and women who are the most invisible. For example, despite improvements in the overall picture, I am told that 30 percent of women are still employed as unpaid family workers according to the November 2013 household labour survey results published only this week on 17 February 2014. Informality and decent work are still important challenges. Over 50 per cent of women are employed informally without social security, whereas a relatively smaller 29 per cent of men are informally employed. When we look at specific sectors and social security status, we learn that women consistently tend to concentrate in the informal economy and unpaid agricultural work. There is also the threat of continued social exclusion as a result of lack of access to health and pension benefits and other rights such as decent work. We also know that women’s participation in economic life is good not only for their empowerment and equal participation in society, but that it is also smart economics, which can significantly increase a country’s Gross National Income.

However, the focus of the study that we will hear about today will show that even in societies where women participate in social and economic life relatively equally, they still face other challenges such as time poverty that decreases their quality of life. The study being presented today is important in providing an analytical basis for social policy recommendations to address the imbalances of intra-household responsibilities as well as to highlight the significant incidence of unpaid household production.

In closing, let me express my sincere gratitude to the Levy Institute of Economics, who conducted this study so diligently and to Ankara University’s Economics Department for all their technical support and for making this event happen. I also need to convey my thanks to our government counterparts, especially the Turkish Statistical Institute, for providing data that made this study possible and for helping in every possible way. I am happy to be a part of this event, as well as the debates on social and economic equity, social policies and gender equality, since a lot of my past and current work has prioritized these issues. Such studies and events that trigger dialogue on these issues broaden our understanding of the complex reality we are part of and allow us to rethink traditional policy recommendations.

UNDP Turkey hopes that this study will help identify and address not only the structural causes of women’s low labour force participation in this country, but also highlight new forms of deprivation, which are being widely debated by policy makers across the world. We also hope that the outcome of this conference will help in the design of better policies to create a more just society.

I thank the organizers for this opportunity to make this opening address and wish you all a very fruitful workshop.