29 Apr 2020

Getting the right indicators to measure extreme poverty: homelessness and the SDGs

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Europe is increasing. For FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) is an opportunity to prevent and tackle homelessness at the European level. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can also play a role by monitoring the implementation of the SDGs and advocating for a human rights-based approach to poverty and homelessness.

Maria José Aldanas, European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless

Our aim at FEANTSA is to end homelessness in Europe, engaging European institutions and national and regional governments to achieve this. We are the only European NGO focusing exclusively on this fight, bringing together over 130 member organisations – mainly non-profit services that support homeless people – in 30 countries.

In 2016, the European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated that the Commission was “making the SDGs and sustainability agenda a guiding principle in all our work.” Since then, we have called for the EU and its Member States to ensure that they do not leave homeless people behind (see FEANTSA’s position).

While homelessness has become a priority on the EU’s social policy agenda, the global indicator framework for SDGs only includes an income-based definition of poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day), which is not appropriate for the European context. Rather, the commitment to end extreme poverty and “leave no one behind” needs rigorous engagement in the SDG indicator framework.

We are pushing for homelessness to be monitored in the scope of the SDGs, and have encouraged the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, to explore an indicator on homelessness in line with SDG 1 (ending poverty) and SDG 11 (inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities). As the global indicator framework for SDGs does not establish any methodology or standards to measure homelessness, we believe that there is room for improvement at the national level.

EU Member States should not turn a blind eye to extreme poverty just because it is difficult to measure. Although there are challenges with data availability, comparability and timeliness, there are useful examples to follow.

Many EU Member States have their own homelessness data collection systems and collect regular data. Some focus on homelessness in their national SDG monitoring; for example, Finland was the first country to launch an SDG national action plan that included an indicator on homelessness. Eurostat has also issued guidance on the systematic collection and comparability of data on material deprivation, well-being and housing difficulties.

What can NHRIs do?

NHRIs can also play a role. For example, the German Institute for Human Rights (Germany’s NHRI) is collaborating with a social research institution to develop a human rights-based index for poverty measurement. Belgium’s Combat Poverty Service functions as data collection points in an inter-federal working group that maps homelessness in the country; it has also started a research project to involve homeless people in the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions survey.

NHRIs can use their position as interlocutors between civil society and the state to:

  • Advise governments on measuring poverty and homelessness using a human rights-based approach and advocate for a multidimensional understanding of the issue
  • Encourage states to include homelessness measurements as a part of their SDG indicators when measuring the scope of extreme poverty
  • Cooperate with FEANTSA’s member organisations to allow homeless people to participate in policymaking, or to develop joint advocacy or research activities
  • Develop a common position of European NHRIs to call for human rights-based measurement of poverty and homelessness at the European level
  • Continue sharing and exchanging good practices within the member networks of FEANTSA and ENNHRI

Further reading

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to ENNHRI.

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