Shelter as a dimension of poverty

Adequate housing is a human right enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has developed seven elements that are necessary if the right to adequate housing is to be achieved:

  • Legal security of tenure
  • Affordability
  • Habitability
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  • Accessibility
  • Location
  • Cultural adequacy

SDG 11 aims to ‘make all cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. This goal cannot be achieved without a focus on adequate housing. SDG Target 11.1 is to ‘ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums’ by 2030.

Further information can be found in The Right to Adequate Housing Fact Sheet (No. 21) published by the UN High Commission for Human Rights.

What the research reveals about shelter

The provision of adequate shelter remains a major global challenge. Projections undertaken by the McKinsey Global Institute indicated that, based on current trends, by 2025 1.6 billion people would live in ‘crowded, inadequate, unsafe housing and be financially stretched’ (McKinsey Global Institute, 2014). Lucci et al. (2018) have argued that the problem of inadequate housing is particularly acute in urban areas, with 30 percent of urban populations in the global South living in slums. With growing urbanisation, the percentage of slum dwellers is predicted to rise to 60 percent of urban populations in the global South by 2050 (Lucci et al., 2018: 297). Significantly, Lucci et al. point out that current measures of multidimensional poverty are likely to underestimate the extent of housing deprivation.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index, for example, considers a household deprived in housing if they had dirt, sand or dung floors’ (Lucci et al., 2018: 305). While the choice of indicators is necessarily restricted by the data that are available, they are unlikely to be relevant in urban areas, particularly those where high-density living is common.

What the IMMP reveals about shelter

The participatory research on which the IMMP is based highlighted the relationship between poverty and poor housing conditions, with the lack of any housing and poor-quality housing identified as indicating the most severe forms of deprivation. In terms of the physical structures, poor-quality housing was generally described as homes with leaky roofs or crumbling walls. Overcrowding was identified as a problem associated with poverty, and one that impacted disproportionately on women both because they generally have responsibility for domestic work and because privacy issues are acute, particularly during menstruation. The location of houses was also identified as important during the participatory research, and locations close to rubbish dumps or railways, or in illegal settlements, were identified as indicating deprivation.

What the IMMP Shelter dimension measures

The health dimension of the IMMP consists of three themes: habitability, ownership of essential household items and security of tenure. The themes are constructed with data collected through both the household and individual surveys.

Theme 1: Habitability

The first theme, habitability, consists of five indicators each with one variable. The first three indicators categorise the main construction material of floor, roof and exterior walls of the dwelling. The fourth indicator assesses the overall condition of the house, and the fifth indicator considers crowdedness, e.g. whether the home is too crowded to live comfortably.

Theme 2: Ownership of essential household items

The second theme, ownership of essential household items, is represented by four indicators that each correspond to a single variable measuring ownership of: sufficient cooking utensils (e.g. pots, pans and knives to use for the preparation of a meal with more than one component or dish), of sufficient tableware (e.g. plates, bowls, dishes and cups), of bedding (e.g. blankets, mats and/or mattresses to sleep comfortably), and of water storage and/or carrying vessels (to store enough water for one day).

Theme 3: Security of tenure

The third theme relates to the respondents’ security of tenure in their dwellings and comprises three indicators. The first indicator has one variable related to their concern of possible eviction. The second examines recognition of ownership, meaning whether the ownership of the residence is recognised either by the government or by customary tenure. The third indicator examines mortgage or rent stress through two variables: whether the respondent has to pay rent or a mortgage for their dwelling, and if so, whether they have been able to make payments on time.

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