Poverty lines in Greater Cairo: underestimating and misrepresenting poverty
The way in which poverty is defined and measured influences who is considered to be poor, how the state responds and how successful the state responses are judged to be. As this paper aims to demonstrate, if the definition is incorrect or based on inaccurate data, the scale and nature of poverty can be greatly underestimated. The paper engages with the global debate about the meaningfulness, validity and reliability of the poverty-line approach by examining the Egyptian poverty lines in relation to the reality of the lives of the urban poor in Greater Cairo. It reviews Egypt’s various poverty lines, and the data which inform them, and then questions their value in relation to the real costs of some basic living needs in eight of Greater Cairo’s informal areas in 2008.
The paper is divided into four main sections which:
- review some of the background literature about poverty lines and their weaknesses, emphasising the importance of multidimensional measures of poverty that consider more than just income or consumption levels
- assess what poverty lines studies say about poverty in Greater Cairo – different studies and data sources produce different, and at times, contradictory conclusions about the scale and distribution of poverty in Egypt and about trends in poverty incidence over time
- discuss the flawed data on which poverty line studies draw, reviewing various contradictory figures from different government authorities about the number of slums and their populations – the consequence of under-counting slum populations means that these populations have a much lower probability of being included in household surveys providing data for poverty line studies
- question the validity of various recent poverty lines in relation to the costs and conditions of living in eight of Greater Cairo’s informal settlements
The paper concludes that the incidence of poverty is severely underestimated in Greater Cairo. This is because poverty lines are set too low in relation to the costs of even the most basic of needs, and because the household survey data which inform poverty-line studies under-sample people living in informal settlements, as they are based on census data which under-count the populations of informal areas.