Poverty, Inequality and Wellbeing

IDS research challenges orthodox views on the nature of poverty, how poverty is understood and how policy can best accelerate poverty reduction. Our work focuses on poverty and wellbeing through the lens of equity and inequality. Poverty is not only about 'poor' people but also about the social and economic inequalities that compound and reproduce poverty. Social structures and relationships between the poor and the non-poor, middle class and elites and donors and NGOs are also key.

Girls with chicken in Mumbai slum

Traditional ways of thinking about poverty, inequality and wellbeing are increasingly being questioned and policy spaces are opening for us to rethink poverty, inequality and wellbeing.The UN poverty targets, the Millennium Development Goals, are due for renewal in 2015. This process may result in a second generation of MDGs. In this context, we ask how these debates and other policy discussions should take account of the new geography of global poverty and how can they factor in new thinking on the nature of poverty, inequality and wellbeing?

Our work on poverty, inequality and wellbeing focuses on three key areas including:

  1. New concepts of poverty, vulnerability and wellbeing – what are the new and emerging ways of thinking about poverty, vulnerability, and wellbeing and their interactions and what do these changes mean for policy and research? 
  2. Different experiences of poverty, vulnerability and wellbeing - How does the experience of poverty differ by countries at different levels of development by social groups, by ages and by gender? 
  3. Contemporary patterns and trends of poverty, vulnerability and wellbeing – How are global and regional patterns of poverty, vulnerability and wellbeing changing and what do these changes mean for policy and research? 

Key projects include:

2015 Agenda: What Should Replace the MDGs?

The new context of post economic crisis and climate change adaptation present an opportunity to rethink development progress and indicators. Although the core concerns of the MDGs such as nutrition, health, education are likely to remain valid after 2015 in some way, how best can their progress best be assessed? Our research explores the types of indicators and institutional architecture and UN System required to underpin a post 2015 development framework and the kind of global processes of deliberation that are needed to build political momentum for 2015.

Human Wellbeing

In a world where many experience unprecedented levels of wellbeing, chronic poverty remains a major concern for many developing countries and the international community. Conventional frameworks for understanding development and poverty have focused on money, commodities and economic growth. Research on wellbeing approach seeks to challenge these conventional approaches and contribute to a new paradigm for development centred on human wellbeing.

The New Bottom Billion – Poverty in Middle Income Countries

The global poverty 'problem' is changing. There is a new 'bottom billion' of 960 million poor people or 72% of the world's poor who live not in poor countries but in middle-income countries. This is a dramatic change from just two decades ago, when 93% of poor people lived in low-income countries. Research undertaken also suggests that the trend towards middle-income poverty will continue until 2020 and 2030 irrespective of economic growth.

IDS research also explores the implications of these shifts for poverty reduction strategies as poverty increasingly turns from an international to a national distribution problem, and that governance and domestic taxation and redistribution policies become of more importance than overseas development assistance.

Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA)

Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) is a five-year, DFID-funded, research programme consortium which aims to produce new evidence and policy insights into different pathways to agricultural commercialisation in Africa and their differential outcomes for local people and economies. More details

Analysis of Maharashtra’s Decline in Childhood Stunting

UNICEF and IDS are collaborating to undertake an in-depth analysis of the factors that may have led to the 16% decline in child stunting in Maharashtra evidenced in surveys covering the period 2006-2012. More details

DAC Development Debate

On 13 June 2012 the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) hosted its third DAC Development Debate (DDD). Centring on the theme New poverty patterns: Where will the poor live? More details

Future Research Leaders ‘Reducing Poverty in the First 18 years of Life'

This proposed research responds to these concerns by using monetary and non-monetary measures to analyse child poverty dynamics, assessing overlaps and mismatches between those measures and investigating reasons for potential differences More details

Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures)

GroFutures is a 4-year interdisciplinary research project aiming to develop the scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa. More details

Informal Work and Wellbeing in Urban South Asia: Who Succeeds, Who Fails and Under What Conditions?

This study proposes an exploration of the determinants of wellbeing for informal workers living in informal settlements across a diverse set of urbanising localities in Bangladesh and India. We will present empirical evidence on what patterns and gradations of wellbeing success and failure are emerging for women and men engaged in informal work and living in informal settlements. More details

Measuring Wellbeing for Development: A Primer

The OECD Development Centre has commissioned Allister McGregor to write "Guidelines on Measuring Progress for Development". More details

Research on the Poverty Impact of Market and Enabling Business Environment Programmes in Kenya

To what extent does private sector development work in Kenya contribute to a reduction in poverty and inequality? This review aims to assess the evidence base for DFID Kenya’s Wealth Creation Pillar programming. More details

States Delivering for Poor People

This project entails an initial scoping study in Rajasthan and Western UP to firm up research questions that are relevant and useful for understanding the politics and implementation of the MGNREGA. More details

The New Bottom Billion

New IDS research shows that the global poverty 'problem' is changing. There is a new 'bottom billion' of 960m poor people or 72 per cent of the world's poor who live not in poor countries but in middle-income countries (MICs). More details

The World Social Science Report 2015-2016

The next World Social Science Report due to be published in 2016 will focus on the critical contemporary issues of inequalities and justice. More details

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IDS publications on international development research

Informal Work and Wellbeing in Urban South Asia: Who Succeeds, Who Fails and Under What Conditions?

This study sets out to explore the associational relationships between a variety of institutional conditions and the wellbeing outcomes for informal workers living in informal settlements in Bangladesh and India. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Failing the Urban Poor: Applying a Wellbeing Approach to Understand Urban Poverty

Looking across ten key areas of wellbeing, the study explores informal worker perspectives on what it means to live well in the city. It investigates issues that are not commonly addressed in urban poverty policy debates, such as social relations, empowerment and dignity. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Transforming Social Protection: Human Wellbeing and Social Justice

The European Journal of Development Research 26.3 (2014)

This article calls for a moment of pause to consider the current direction of social protection thinking and practice. It introduces a special issue in which a range of authors explore the relationship between social protection and social justice. More details

This is the cover for IDS Working Paper 436, 'An Economics of Wellbeing:
What Would Economics Look Like if it were Focused on Human Wellbeing?'

An Economics of Wellbeing: What Would Economics Look Like if it were Focused on Human Wellbeing?

IDS Working Paper 436 (2014)

This paper makes a number of fundamental proposals to reconsider economics by putting human wellbeing at the centre. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Oceans and Human Health: Implications for Society and Well-Being

This pioneering book will be of value to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students taking courses in public health, environmental, economic, and policy fields. More details

IDS publications on international development research

The Legacy of Inequality and Negligence in Brazil’s Unfinished Urban Transition: Lessons for Other Developing Regions

International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 5.1 (2013)

Compared to other developing countries in Asia and Africa, Brazil experienced an early urban transition. Cities, especially large ones, already concentrate most of the country's population and economic activity. However, an underlying structure of inequality persists in urban areas, reflecting a historical reluctance to accept urban growth or to steer markets and planned developments towards meeting the housing needs of the poor. More details

This is the cover for IDS Working Paper 432, 'Global Development and Happiness: How can Data on Subjective Wellbeing Inform Development Theory and Practice?'.

Global Development and Happiness: How can Data on Subjective Wellbeing Inform Development Theory and Practice?

IDS Working Paper 432 (2013)

How can the new science of happiness add value to development theory and practice? More details

IDS publications on international development research

Global Implications of Somalia 2011 for Famine Prevention, Mitigation and Response

Global Food Security Special Issue on the Somalia Famine of 2011-2012 (2012)

The famine in Somalia 2011–2012 is a call for critical reflection and improvement. To summarize the main conclusions, while the emergence of a food security crisis in the Greater Horn of Africa in 2011 was well predicted, inadequate measures were taken to prevent, mitigate and respond to this crisis. More details

IDS publications on international development research

International Cooperation to Reduce Inequality

Latin America's inequality ranks first in the world, constricting development and hindering citizenship. To tackle the inequality syndrome, a comprehensive approach should be put in place. Recommendations to address inequality through international cooperation ought to highlight strengthening of democratic institutions, enforcement of citizenship - especially labour rights - promotion of an active and strategic role for the state, implementation of due social policies - particularly higher education - and protection of the environment. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Child Wellbeing in Kazakhstan

Unicef (2012)

Kazakhstan, a resource-rich country in Central Asia, has witnessed strong and continuous economic growth until 2007, when the financial and economic crisis hit the country. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Cohort Profile: Young Lives a Cohort Study on Childhood Poverty in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam

International Journal of Epidemiology 5.5 (2012)

Young Lives is an international longitudinal study investigating the changing nature of childhood poverty in four low-income countries Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam over a 15-year period. More details

IDS Working Paper

Carrot or Stick? Redistributive Transfers versus Policing in Contexts of Civil Unrest

IDS Working Paper 382 (2011)

This IDS Working Paper provides a theoretical analysis in a dynamic setting of the merits of redistributive transfers in preventing the onset of (and reducing) civil unrest and compares it with policies of more direct intervention such as the use of police. More details

This is the image of the report Inequality and Social Justice Roundtable Consultation.

Inequality and Social Justice Roundtable Consultation

This report synthesizes a high-level Consultation convened by IDS and the UN Millennium Achievement Fund, which brought together leaders in the UN, NGOs, research institutions and governments to discuss the problem of global inequalities and the agenda to address them. More details

Non-IDS publication

The Impact of Armed Civil Conflict on Household Welfare and Policy Responses

MICROCON Research Working Paper 12 (2009)

Published as part of the MICROCON Working Paper series, this paper offers a framework for analysing the effects of armed conflicts on households and the ways in which households in turn respond to and cope with the conflicts. More details

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing

After 2015: '3D Human Wellbeing'

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing 9.2 (2009)

'3D Human Wellbeing' is emerging as a complement to the more traditional and material ways of conceptualising and measuring poverty and deprivation such as those implicit in the MDGs. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Wellbeing, Poverty and Conflict

This paper argues for the adoption of a practical concept of wellbeing and the integration of wellbeing audits into all levels of development policy processes. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Overcoming Inequality in Latin America: Challenges and Issues for the Twenty-First Century

Latin America is faced with the challenge of achieving the Millennium Developmental Goal to halve poverty in the region by 2015. Historically, this region has experienced persistently high levels of inequality and poverty, the causes and consequences of which are analytically examined here. More details

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