Economic and Social Research Council
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Better measures of child poverty

In a perfect world of child poverty targets and measurement, income measures would be complemented by non-income ones, and analysis of root causes would go beyond what happens in the family, suggests recent research in Burundi, Ethiopia and Vietnam.

Measuring child poverty on the basis of family income alone may lead to groups of deprived and vulnerable children being excluded from help, says Dr Keetie Roelen. "Using non-monetary measures in contrast to monetary measures identifies different groups of children as being poor. So, children living in families with above poverty income are still deprived because they don't have access to basic services such as schooling, good sanitation, or water and vice versa."

Recent debate about child poverty in developing countries, but also in the UK, has focused on the 'root causes' of poverty such as unemployment and family breakdown.

"Moving away from an income measure as the main target for child poverty is not a bad thing per se, but focusing on the root causes at the level of the family alone is worse," says Dr Roelen. "It disregards complex factors that determine whether a child is doing well or not, and also places the responsibility for tackling child poverty on parents and children themselves."

Parents and children in Burundi, Ethiopia and Vietnam told researchers that achieving good outcomes is a complex task involving a variety of influences: parents, other families, the community and, notably, government. Hence, this study highlights the crucial and continuing importance of policies that put in place the structural changes required to improve child poverty outcomes: for example, employment, access to schools, improved sanitation and healthcare services.

Further information

This article was published in the Summer 2016 issue of the Society Now magazine.

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