The Basic Capabilities Index

Social Watch has developed the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) as a way to identify poverty situations not based on income.* The most widely poverty-related indicators used internationally are the World Bank estimates of number people living with less than one or two dollars per day or the UNDP calculation of the Human Development Index, which combines income figures with health and education related indicators. By not using income, the BCI is consistent with the definitions of poverty based on capabilities and (denial of) human rights. At the same time it is comparatively easy to build the index at sub-national and municipal level, without requiring expensive household surveys as income-based indexes do.

The BCI is based on three indicators (percentage of children who reach fifth grade, mortality among children under five, and percentage of deliveries attended by skilled health personnel), which by themselves express different dimensions addressed by internationally agreed development goals (education, children’s health and reproductive health). Yet, research has indicated that as a summary index, the BCI provides a consistent general overview of the health status and basic educational performance of a population. It has also proven to be highly correlated with measures of other human capabilities related to the social development of countries. The index allows to assign a score to each country and thereby to compare with other countries or to assess its evolution over time.

The highest possible BCI score is reached when all women are assisted when they give birth, no child leaves school before successfully completing the fifth grade and infant mortality is reduced to its lowest possible of less than five death for every thousand children born. These indicators are closely associated with capabilities that all members of a society should have and which mutually interact to make it possible to achieve higher levels of individual and collective development. They particularly emphasize capabilities that contribute to the welfare of the youngest members of society and thereby foster the future development of nations.

This year the BCI was calculated for a total of 161 countries, which were then grouped into categories for the purposes of analysis. The most severe situations are found in countries with critical BCI scores. In the very low BCI category are countries that also face significant obstacles to achieving the well-being of the population. Countries with low BCI scores are at an intermediate level in the satisfaction of basic capabilities and their performance varies in some development dimensions. The countries that have succeeded in ensuring these basic capabilities for most or all of their populations are in the two categories with the highest BCI values (medium and acceptable BCI). Belonging to these last groups does not imply a high level of development, but rather that these countries meet minimum essential requirements in order to progress towards higher levels of well-being.

The countries that have suffered the greatest decrease in their BCI scores are primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. This fact is particularly troubling because these countries have actually regressed even further from already low, very low or even critical BCI levels. Some countries in East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin American and the Caribbean, such as Suriname and Guyana, have also seen deterioration in their basic capabilities.

* The BCI is originated in the Quality of Life Index developed by the non-governmental organization Action for Economic Reforms-Philippines, which was derived from the Capability Poverty Measure (CPM) proposed by Professor Amartya Sen and popularized by the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (HDI).