How do we gauge PHL ‘poverty?’ It’s ‘multidimensional,’ says Neda chief

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) defended poverty data estimates, saying the use of a single metric would not be enough to determine the state of a household or a Filipino’s welfare.

In a recent House Committee on Appropriations hearing on the 2023 national budget, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said in reality, there are “too many metrics” available to measure poverty because of the many ways a person can be considered poor.

Balisacan said a household or a Filipino can be considered not poor in terms of income but may be considered education or health poor, given the “multidimensional” nature of poverty. Based on the multidimensional poverty index created by the government, apart from education and health, a person or household can also be poor in terms of access to water and sanitation as well as employment opportunities.  

“What is practiced is to look at the so-called norm or standard of absolute poverty and the purpose there is really to not to come up with a unique or singular measure of poverty but to have a measure that allows us to monitor the changes in poverty, I would like to emphasize, the changes in poverty over time so that we can measure or we can gauge how effective we have been in addressing or reducing poverty,” Balisacan explained.

This is the same reason, Balisacan said, why the income and subsistence poverty thresholds estimated in the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) poverty data cannot be used as basis for data such as minimum wage. Based on the PSA data, the poverty threshold is at P12,030 per month for a family of five and P8,379 per month to meet their basic food requirements.

“We have a dashboard of various indicators or metrics of opportunities like the health, education, employment and others. That is what we are focusing on. So for example the poverty threshold that we use as measurement of changes of poverty over time, is not meant to act as a guide in setting minimum wages for example. That is not what it is set for,” Balisacan explained.

Balisacan also stressed that these estimates begin with the food bundles recommended by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). The institute recommends 2,000 calories of food intake daily.

The FNRI based these food bundles on the Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake (RENI) as well as the proportion of food bought and own-produced components obtained from the Food Consumption Survey.

In a presentation at the First Data Festival in 2018, PSA Poverty and Human Development Statistics Division Chief Statistical Specialist Bernadette B. Balamban said the national reference food bundle for breakfast includes scrambled egg, coffee with milk, and boiled rice/rice-corn mix.

For lunch, the menu included boiled/ginataang monggo with malunggay and dried dilis, banana, boiled rice/corn mix; dinner had fried fish/boiled pork, vegetable dish, boiled rice/rice-corn mix; and for snacks, bread or boiled root crop.

Translated into the food bundle for the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila, breakfast includes scrambled egg, coffee with milk, and boiled rice; lunch had boiled monggo with malunggay and dried dilis, latundan, and boiled rice; dinner, fried tulingan, boiled kangkong, and boiled rice; and for snacks, pandesal.

In terms of non-food items, Balamban said this included clothing and footwear; fuel, light and water; housing maintenance and other minor repairs; rental of occupied dwelling units; medical care; education; transportation and communication; non-durable furnishing; household operations and personal care and effects.

The PSA earlier said the poor, based on Section 3 of Republic Act 8425 of 1997 or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, is defined by Neda as those individuals and families whose income fall below the poverty threshold or those who cannot afford in a sustained manner to provide their minimum basic needs of food, health, education, housing and other essential amenities of life.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes


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