Consistent and Transparent? The Problem of Longitudinal Poverty Records


  • Bernard Walters,

    1. honorary fellow at the School of Social Sciences in the University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK (e-mail: He has particular interest in the relationship between macroeconomic policy and poverty outcomes with experience working in low-income and transitional economies. He has worked widely as a consultant for the UNDP and the World Bank.
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  • Richard Marshall,

    1. economist with UNDP's Bangladesh Office in Dhaka. His areas of work include trade policy, monitoring and evaluation of the MDGs, social protection and urban policy. He holds a doctorate from the University of Manchester (UK). His research interests include the relationships between growth, inequality and poverty reduction and the economics of transition.
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  • Frederick Nixson

    1. Emeritus Professor of Development Economics at the University of Manchester. He has been actively involved in research, policy advice and education and training in low-income developing and transitional economies for forty years. He has acted as a consultant for, among other bodies, the Asian Development Bank, the UNDP and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
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One of the authors is an economist with UNDP; however, the views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or their Member States. The authors gratefully acknowledge the comments of the journal's anonymous referees: their contribution was enormous and helped turn an unwieldy paper into something much more precise and directed.


The World Bank and leading donors have emphasized the importance of evidence-based policy making in addressing entrenched poverty. Adoption of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers has also required establishing and updating poverty baselines, typically through Living Standards Measurement Surveys. Although the conceptual basis of these surveys has been questioned, little attention has been paid to whether frequent revisions to the longitudinal record have undermined their value. This article argues that changes to the poverty record have been sufficiently frequent and often sufficiently large to compromise the creation of a sound longitudinal poverty record. The lack of transparency also weakens national debate and ownership and undermines the construction of evidence-based policy.