New indicators on EU poverty at local level

Existing figures on poverty and living conditions in the European Union are not statistically reliable for small areas such as Local Administrative Units (LAUs). The SAMPLE (Small Area Methods for Poverty and Living Condition Estimates) research project has suggested new indicators, such as levels of debt, quality of housing and ability to access services, as additional measures for estimating poverty and living conditions at the local level.

Currently, the main source of estimates on poverty is the EU-wide Survey of Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC)1 run by Eurostat. However, these estimates are not well-suited to areas as small as individual municipalities or city districts. SAMPLE recommends improving their usefulness by identifying and developing new indicators and by linking EU-SILC survey data with information compiled by local government agencies. Researchers in the SAMPLE project are also developing robust methods of applying these indicators at the local level throughout the EU.

Local government agencies often collect large amounts of data on social exclusion and deprivation in order to monitor their activities tackling inequality within society. For example, they hold data on social security and unemployment claims and also on a range of benefits requested by households and citizens. SAMPLE researchers took the EU-SILC data for Tuscany (Italy) which showed that 15.8% of households had an income below the poverty level, and combined it with more detailed regional data on unemployment and poverty.

Researchers then surveyed 690 stakeholder organisations, including local authorities, health authorities, trade unions, counselling centres and immigrant associations, on the importance and relevance of the main poverty indicators, such as the Laeken indicators used by EU-SILC. Of the respondents, 37.3% were public institutions and 62.7% were private ‘not-for-profit’ organisations. Using questionnaires and expert panels, SAMPLE surveyed respondents’ current perceptions of poverty in their areas, how these have changed over time and their methods of recording and managing data.

The survey showed that:

  • Unemployment was seen by 86.4% of respondents as either very or somewhat relevant as an indicator of poverty.
  • Inequality in income distribution was regarded as a better indicator of poverty (83.9%) than actual income (74.3%).
  • The relevance of health as an indicator yielded mixed results: 55.1% thought it was somewhat or very relevant while 44.9% thought it was somewhat or very irrelevant.
  • The majority (65.3%) of the respondents considered school drop-out rate as somewhat or very relevant, while 33.7% thought it was not very relevant as a measure of poverty.
  • Quality of housing was viewed as somewhat or very relevant by 86.7% of respondents.

A comparison of these indicators of poverty showed that they were seen as having the following order of importance: problems with housing, unemployment, income inequality, income, school drop-out rate and state of health.

New indicators proposed by the survey participants include: levels of debt, quality of food, difficulties in paying for utilities, and access to services. Most respondents (68.2%) felt that the existence of indicators at the local level could be very useful for social policy planning, and the vast majority (90%) were of the view that an observatory to monitor poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion would be somewhat or very useful.

The researchers are exploring the feasibility of applying the same methods in regions of Poland. The SAMPLE project's final goal is to provide a toolkit of reliable indicators of poverty and deprivation which will prove useful for local government agencies. By integrating official data on poverty with stakeholders’ views, the ultimate aim is to establish a permanent observatory of poverty and social exclusion. SAMPLE will produce its final report in March 2011, which will be available to download via the project website: http://www.sample-project.eu.

 

1 See: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/microdata/eu_silc

SAMPLE - Small Area Methods for Poverty and Living Condition Estimates (duration: 1/3/2008 – 28/2/11) is a Specific Targeted Research Project, funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 6 – Socio-economic and scientific indicators.

See: http://www.sample-project.eu

Contact: Monica Pratesi, m.pratesi@ec.unipi.it; Marta Garro, coordinator@sample-project.eu