The SWS poverty surveys resume | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

The SWS poverty surveys resume

/ 05:05 AM December 12, 2020

Social Weather Stations resumed its standard face-to-face survey operations last Nov. 21-25, with a national round of 1,500 households interviewed in their homes, enabling measurement of Self-Rated Poverty (SRP) with the usual visual aids. As I write this column on Dec. 11, I know the new level of SRP, from our draft report, but will not scoop it before public release, which will be very soon.

The household head is the one who reports the family’s poverty status, upon being shown a card with the words MAHIRAP (Poor) and HINDI MAHIRAP (Not Poor) written on it, separated by a line. This gives rise to three categories of families: Poor, Not Poor, and Borderline. The field interviewer shows half of her—all interviewers are women—survey respondents a card with Poor written above the line, and the other half a different card, with Poor written below the line instead.


The exact local word for “poor” is critical. The basic word “mahirap” in the SWS questionnaire expresses, in our judgment, the mildest or most borderline, degree of poverty; words like “maralita” and “dukha” refer to deeper poverty. Therefore the word for “poor” in the interview must be carefully maintained over time.

A national SWS survey questionnaire is written in Filipino, Ilocano, Bicol, Ilonggo, and Cebuano. The English version is only a translation for the sake of coordination. The interviewer speaks in the local language; almost no respondents ask to be interviewed in English. Interviewers are not allowed to change any term in the questionnaire. If asked what any term means, she is trained to reply, “The meaning is up to you.”


So an interviewer makes no judgment about the household’s poverty. In fact, she does not even speak out what is on the card. This interview system has been exactly maintained for three decades. It gave rise to SWS’ steady quarterly reporting of SRP during 1992-2019, or 28 years with four survey rounds apiece. This compares to the government’s poverty tracking of only once every three years, because it is based on orthodox application of an official poverty line to the triennial Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES)—the last one was in 2018, and the next one is set for 2021.

The SRP interview does not supply the respondent with any definition of poverty beyond the one word “mahirap” used in the questionnaire. Those feeling mahirap are then asked what monthly budget they would need for home expenses in order not to feel that way. On the other hand, those not feeling mahirap are then asked to imagine how much a poor family as large as theirs would need in order not to feel that way. Thus the survey discovers bottom-up poverty thresholds: what the people (whether poor or not) say is needed in order not to feel poor.

Any interview system that uses a visual aid is non-transferable to a phone survey, obviously. To maintain the comparability of survey findings over time, SWS decided to postpone usage of SRP until it could resume face-to-face interviewing again.

The SRP system is also used for Self-Rated Food Poverty, and similarly discovers what are the people’s Self-Rated Food Poverty Thresholds. Thresholds vary from area to area, in relation to variation in the cost of living, and from family to family, in relation to family size. There is no need for analysts to adjust the thresholds for such considerations; the survey gives them the people’s adjustments.

The SRP survey also asks the poor respondents how much they lack, in relation to the thresholds that they stated. In this way, it monitors Self-Rated Poverty Gaps, for both general Poverty and Food Poverty.

Finally, for some time now, the SRP survey has been asking those presently poor to recall past times when they were not poor, and has also asked those presently non-poor to recall past times when they were poor. In this way, it discovers the states of transition from poverty to non-poverty, as well as vice-versa. SRP surveys produce a great wealth of data; SWS is very glad to resume them again.


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TAGS: dukha, mahirap, Poor, Poverty, self-rated poverty, survey, SWS
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