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Make Poverty Sensitive Decisions

What is it?

What is Poverty Sensitive Decision Making?

Poverty sensitive decision making helps to make clear the impact of decisions made by services and organisations on people experiencing poverty. The widely accepted definition of poverty is having an income which is less than 60% of the national average.

It encourages a decision-making environment in which the impact on poverty is duly considered, evidenced and justified and plans put it place to lessen or avoid any negative impacts.

This approach is intended to go beyond traditional poverty, regeneration or economic development based services to take wider services into account which may also have a significant impact on the experience of poverty. For example, health, education, transport or environmental services.

Although it is hoped that more poverty sensitive decisions will be taken as a result of this process the aim is not to introduce an overly restrictive bind on those responsible. Rather, the aim is to demonstrate that poverty has been considered and if the decision has any unintended negative impacts action taken to lessen these where possible. 

Poverty sensitive budgeting can be used in two main ways…

  • To support people to take poverty, inequality or socio-economic disadvantage into account when making decisions about service provision or budgets.
  • To help people develop more poverty sensitive policies in future.

Why use it?

Why use poverty sensitive decision making?

In the current economic climate we are all having to make tough decisions concerning budgets, service provision and support that is on offer. However, we need to make sure that the consequence of these tough decisions don't impact disproportionately on the most vulnerable in our society. Evidence suggests that recession does not widen the risk of poverty. It increases it for those people already most at risk of becoming poor, or remaining in poverty for longer.

Poverty sensitive decision making could be a stimulus for more effective anti-poverty work.

It suggests a high level of commitment to tackling poverty and of an approach that is prepared to the address key issues by identifying and mitigating possible negative impacts in the future.

It widens responsibility for tackling poverty (beyond field-based practitioners and those managing projects), to include those with 'backroom' administrative responsibilities, such as finance officers and treasurers. It is a tool for demonstrating that tackling poverty is everybody's business.

It establishes a culture whereby each decision is accompanied by reflection on the extent to which it impacts positively or negatively on poverty may increase the probability that positive initial decisions or budget allocations are taken in future.

It can be a stimulus to better understand the specific contribution to tackling poverty of any particular service, budget line, project or organisation would heighten accountability and demand improvements in how poverty impact is to be understood, measured and appraised.

Starting the process

How can I encourage other service areas to consider poverty?

Many service areas across a local authority and its community planning partnership, that may not have considered their responsibility to alleviate poverty, can have a significant impact on how it is experienced.

For example, access to transport can be a key issue in terms of how people experience poverty. People who cannot access or afford public transport may feel isolated, unable to easily take their child to visit the doctor, pharmacy or other essential services. Their opportunities to secure work may be limited as they are unable to travel outwith a certain area for employment. They may be unable to take advantage of bargain deals and saver options provided by the larger out-of-town supermarkets, or forced to compromise with more expensive, less healthy options provided in local shops. These problems can be particularly acute in a rural areas.

When gathering evidence to make your argument to other service areas the following prompts may be useful:

  • Does the service cover a known deprived group or area?
  • How does this provision compare to the service in more affluent areas or for more affluent groups?
  • Is the service considered affordable for all social groups? If an area or group couldn't access the service, would the impact be felt differently depending on their socio-economic status? How so?
  • What benefits could supporting anti poverty or inequality measures have to the service? E.g. Housing having fewer voids or evictions? Environmental services having fewer cases of vandalism?
  • Are there any joint outcomes you can both be working towards?

When making your approach to the other service area it may be useful to consider the following prompts:

  • Who do you need to involve? Who are the key decision makers within the service?
  • Are there any contacts in the service which could become a 'champion' for increasing poverty awareness?
  • What is the best method to use to approach them? Face to face? Email?
  • What are their key drivers / concerns? Can supporting anti poverty work influence or have an impact on these drivers? What are the budgetary implications now and in the long term?
  • Can you present anti poverty activity in a way which would be beneficial to their 'core' work?

On this page you can view a case study example of how Shetland are taking poverty sensitive decisions in terms of environmental health.

Fit with the policy cycle

Poverty Sensitive Decision Making in the Policy Cycle

There are 6 main stages in the policy making cycle.

  • Rationale - What is your intervention or policy going to fix?
  • Objective - What goals are you going to set yourself?
  • Appraisal - Which method you are going to use to reach those goals?
  • Monitoring - How are things progressing during implementation of the policy?
  • Evaluation - How successful was the policy?
  • Feedback - What lessons can you feedback to make sure that future policy is more effective?

If you wish to help influence colleagues to consider poverty in their area of work there are certain times when it may be most useful to become involved.

Objective setting  - Does any evidence you have gathered suggest that a service could be delivering a better standard to a group or area experiencing poverty or save you or others money in the long term? Becoming involved at this stage will allow you to present your case for why they should amend their policy and include poverty as one of their objectives.

Appraisal setting  - At this point the service area will know the problem they want to address and the goals they want to achieve. Offering different ways and methods in which tackling poverty can support them to achieve their goals will demonstrate the benefits to both their service area and yours. It will also make your argument easier if your proposal is not seen as additional to 'core' business. Useful tools as part of the appraisal process are  learning from successful practice and  logic modelling  .

Monitoring  - Becoming involved at this stage suggests that you are gathering evidence of the impact of an existing policy. This can be used to create a proposal / argument for why poverty sensitive decision making should be employed in the future. If you have been involved since the start of the policy cycle this stage means working together with the service area to make sure that they continue to have a focus on tackling poverty and that the policy is progressing towards its objectives.

Evaluation & Feedback  - At this stage it is important that the contribution of the tackling poverty elements of the policy are captured and shared. This will raise awareness of the positive impact that tackling poverty can have to the long term aims of related service areas. If an approach is proven to be succesful it is more likely to be adopted. Other service areas can also learn from any challenges or obstacles experienced.

Useful guidance for local government and the third sector on how to conduct effective evaluation can be found in the Magenta book published by Her Majesty's treasury.

Available Tools

What tools can I use for poverty sensitive decision making?

The following tools and prompts may help set out the different range of impacts you anticipate as part of a poverty sensitive decision making process. They are envisaged as a useful example or starting point for you to take and adapt to your local circumstances.

To help people develop more poverty sensitive policies in future.

Access the  Inequalities Impact Assessment Tool

To make people more aware of poverty, inequality or socio-economic disadvantage when making decisions about service provision or budgets.

The following prompts may help to structure the decision making of you and your colleagues when considering changes to service provision or budgets.

  • What is the anticipated change? (Consider carefully whether it will be via increased or decreased expenditure, service provision, access to services or benefits. Include exact figures / savings / service specifications if available)
  • What is the rationale behind the anticipated change?
  • What kind of impact will the change have on poverty, socio economic disadvantage or inequality? (Where available, provide evidence that the change will have either - no impact on poverty or inequality; improve the quality of life for people experiencing poverty; remove people from poverty or decrease income inequality in Scotland. )
  • Will the anticipated change have a more significant impact on any vulnerable groups, equalities groups or geographic areas?

If you expect your anticipated change to have negative impact on any of the elements above these further prompts may be of use.

  • Where possible, explain how the change will have a negative impact.
  • Where available, provide tangible evidence that the negative impact will take place and who / where it will affect.
  • Explain why you have chosen to make a change that will have a negative impact.
  • Set out any actions that you will take to reduce the negative impact.

On this page you can access an example Poverty Impact Assessment Tool developed by Falkirk Council

Making it effective

Effective poverty sensitive decision making

In order to use poverty sensitive decision making effectively the following factors need to be taken into account:

  • Definition -  Poverty and socio economic disadvantage are complex. A decision needs to be taken on how these are going to be understood. Which groups in poverty are to be targeted (e.g. children, pensioners, working people, women, ethnic minorities, disabled people)? What dimensions of poverty are to be considered (will the intervention move people out of poverty, improve the quality of live of people experiencing poverty or avoid pushing more people into poverty)?
  • Baseline  - In order to appraise options effectively and make good decisions you will need to provide a baseline of current levels of poverty or poverty related activity to be able to measure expected change.
  • Impact - Acknowledge that the impacts of your decisions may be affected by a wide range of factors. Some external to the organisation. For example change in benefits or the recession.
  • Working together  - Recognise that this approach requires a number of different skills sets. For example a working knowledge or poverty and inequality as well as proficiency in dealing with budgets and finance. These skills may be split over different individuals in different teams or parts of the organisation.
  • Long term - Many of the strategies and activities required to effectively tackle poverty, inequality and socio economic disadvantage are long term. The positive effects of these interventions will not always become clear within political cycles or budget review periods.