It’s High Time India Ensures High Living Conditions

After the World Hunger Index debacle, now the National Health Family Survey (NHFS) for 2015-16 revealed that one in every four people in India was multidimensionally poor, informed NITI Aayog recently. The report revealed that a total of 25 per cent of Indians are poor on the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) metric. 

“India’s national MPI captures multiple and simultaneous deprivations faced by households across the three macro dimensions of health, education and living standards. It highlights the need for a whole-of-government approach towards addressing poverty and its multidimensionality. This multisectoral approach must be horizontally and vertically integrated across all levels of governance,” said Chairman of NITI Aayog, Rajiv Kumar. 

However, as per the 2021 report of MPI by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI),  27.9 per cent of India’s population were multidimensionally poor. In the list of 109 countries, India was ranked  62 and the index was based on 10 indicators like lack of improved drinking water, adequate nutrition or at least six years of schooling.

The main thing to understand about the term standard of living is that it is meant to be a quantifiable metric and is as such very different from something inherently subjective such as the term quality of life or happiness for instance. The other thing is that standard of living is multifactorial or multi-dimensional in that there are many different indicators and metrics that are folded together to create this composite indicator. These can include things like poverty levels, food and essential good costs and prices and their inflation, income and employment levels, life expectancy, number of paid holidays as per law, GDP, healthcare access, access to basic education, political and religious freedom and environmental quality among other things,” said Lead, Research and Knowledge Building at Oxfam India, Varna Sri Raman. 

According to the media report, the apex public policy thinks tank (NITI Aayog) said that it is going to come up with another MPI report after the NHFS gives its full report five-six months later for 2019-20.

The MPI in India is based on three factors like education, health and standard of living with every person getting a weighting of one-third in the index. Also, the above-mentioned factors are further based on 12 segments like nutrition, child and adolescent mortality, antenatal care, school attendance, years of schooling, sanitation, access to drinking water, cooking fuel, electricity, housing, assets, and bank accounts.

“Human progress and therefore the work of our governments, who are the custodians of our public wealth and in charge of planning and executing governance and quality of life for our people, ought to be measured by the quality of life our most marginalised and most deprived person manages for him/herself. As such we believe there is a whole lot to be accomplished in every dimension of the well-being of the people. The main takeaway of the MPI methodology globally also has been exactly this – that policy needs to stop being implemented with blinders on,” said Raman. 

Raman also said that the MPI advocates that people and their issues be looked at from the lens of multiple deprivations and contextually, such that intersectionality is taken into account thus making policies effective instead of counter-productive. Unfortunately, the Niti Ayog MPI does exactly the opposite, focussing on state-level rankings but shedding no light on the caste, gender and economic location of poor households thus ignoring the various deprivations experienced by people in their daily lives. 

Also, there were deprived individuals by each of these criteria even as several people of them may not have been multidimensionally poor in the year 2015-16. The biggest number of the deprived people are in cooking fuel and sanitation at 58.5 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively. This implies the greater part of the populace was poor on these two counts.

“This includes poor health, insufficient education and a low standard of living. The government has not done enough to ensure basic social protection and well-being of its poorest citizens to make progress; this needs to change, Raman added.

Raman further added that there are many things that can and should be done to make things better however the first step should be committing to collecting and sharing data transparently this includes actually conducting a long-overdue census including a caste census. 

Releasing and sharing unit-level disaggregated data from sample surveys such as the latest NHFS so that global intelligence can utilise and share with India’s policymakers expertise on poverty-alleviation in India. 

India must meet its own commitments and actions under public health, nutrition, women’s welfare and education which it currently has not done – for instance take a look at the gross underutilisation of budgets such as Beti Bachao among others, mentioned Raman while talking about what measures authorities need to do. 

“Planning and implementation must really follow the main principles of public policy viz. a) minimising hysteresis or supporting easy reversibility for a responsive and good COVID-19 recovery for instance expand social security for the informal sectors. Subsidiarity or supporting local action by both official and civil society, for instance, do not penalise non-profit organisations and community actors for social work,” said Raman.

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