Funding from the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme has supported a groundbreaking approach to measuring inequality, created by an international, interdisciplinary team of scholars at the London School of Economics and Political Science and SOAS, University of London, and practitioners at Oxfam.
The newly unveiled Multidimensional Inequality Framework (MIF) project, led by Dr Abigail McKnight, associate director of LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, draws on insights from both academics and activists. The result is a pragmatic framework and toolkit that its creators and funders believe will help a broad range of users, from campaigners and NGOs to policymakers and academics, to deepen and expand their understanding of inequality.
According to Dr McKnight, “Estimates of inequality in income, earnings, wealth, health, life expectancy and education provide only a partial picture of inequality. Attempts have been made to estimate holistic measures of well-being such as measures based on estimates of happiness, but from a quality of life perspective, existing approaches are problematic.
“This is because, on the one hand, measures based on economic outcomes fail to take into account differences in need between individuals and households, or differences in their ability to convert these resources into valuable things they can do or be. On the other hand, subjective outcomes such as happiness are shaped by people’s expectations of life, influenced by social and cultural norms,” she noted.
Theoretically underpinned by Amartya Sen’s capability approach to conceptualising and assessing well-being, the MIF “leads us to consider the important dimensions that shape individuals’ capability to lead a life they have reason to value”, said Dr McKnight.
In identifying the main drivers of inequality and presenting a range of “candidate policies” that could help build more equal societies, the MIF is intended to support effective campaign programming and policy-making worldwide. It has already been trialled in Guatemala by Oxfam, working with the Paraíso Desigual campaign and the Instituto de Investigaciones Económico Sociales (IDIES), and in Spain. Additional pilots are now underway in Burkina Faso and Vietnam.
Patricio Espinoza Lucero, one of the first cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, was part of the MIF project team. He calls it “a great tool for activists and policy-makers. It is one that can be applied across many socioeconomic contexts, with a particular focus on global South realities. It is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and I think one of its most interesting aspects is that it looks beyond the standard measures of economic inequality to areas such as the rule of law and civic participation.”
“I worked on a number of the indicators and different measures that the toolkit uses, focusing on the areas of ‘Physical and legal security’ and ‘Participation, influence and voice’. I learned a lot from Abigail’s team of scholars, and had the opportunity to share my experience as policy-maker in ensuring the toolkit’s simplicity and its applicability to use in a global South context by governments and policy-makers as well as activists,” he said. “This toolkit could be a real game changer.”
Visit the Multidimensional Inequality Framework (MIF) website
Download the Multidimensional Inequality Framework report (PDF).
Read more about this project (via LSE News)
Follow the MIF project on Twitter: @MIF_LSE