New research reveals how a global ‘data revolution' will tackle inequality head on

Immediate release: Monday 10 June 2013

New research, published today, reveals how with a few simple adjustments, standard international household surveys could be amended to ensure global poverty data gives a true picture of life for millions of vulnerable people around the world.

The research from the Overseas Development Institute, and commissioned by Sightsavers, HelpAge International and ADD International, is published in response to last week's landmark UN report on global poverty which called for a ‘data revolution' to correct currently misleading poverty statistics. The UN High Level Panel on Post-2015's report argued that global coordination to improve the quality and availability of data on international development is needed, if poverty is to be eradicated through the Millennium Development Goals' replacement.

The research criticises standard household surveys that are used to collect national statistics for failing to adequately represent many vulnerable groups, such as older people, people with disabilities and those with mental health issues. For example, in some surveys, questions about domestic violence are only addressed to women under 50 years of age, despite evidence showing that many older people also experience domestic violence. As a result, governments and aid organisations don't always know whether the most marginalised people are receiving essential services, meaning some groups are being left behind.

The research recommends three ways that household surveys could be improved to tackle inequalities and close existing data gaps:

  • Extend coverage - Surveys should be extended to cover individuals outside traditional household units (e.g. in residential-care facilities or orphanages) who are currently excluded.
  • Collect richer information - Questions should be asked directly to all household members (e.g. older people and people with disabilities) rather than expecting a household head to answer on their behalf.
  • Improve identification - Improvements must be made in the basic questions that are asked to identify vulnerable people (e.g. those with mental health issues). Particular groups should be over-sampled in order to obtain representative data.

Dr Emma Samman, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and author of the new research said:

"The lack of accurate global data about vulnerable social groups, including older people and people with disabilities, means that many marginalised people are being left behind - we just don't know where these people are and what they are experiencing. This has got to change. Our research has shown that with some simple adjustments to data collection methods in household surveys, we could get a much richer picture of the lives faced by millions worldwide."

Commenting on the new research, Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy at Sightsavers said:

"Millions of older people and people with disabilities around the world face a lifetime of poverty and discrimination. Without accurate and detailed data, governments cannot be properly accountable for the provision of essential services, such as quality healthcare, for the most marginalised. This research shows how an inclusive data revolution could be achieved."


For further press information or for interviews with Emma Samman at ODI or Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy at Sightsavers, please contact Sarah Nelson in the Sightsavers media team on +44 (0)1444 446637, +44 (0)7812 152044 or

For interviews with Silvia Stefanoni, Interim Chief Executive at HelpAge International, contact Attila Kulcsar in HelpAge International's media team on +44 (0)20 7148 7623, +44 (0)7713 567624 or

For interviews with Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive at ADD International, please contact him directly on +44 (0)7939 262674.

Notes to editors.

  • The report, Old age, disability and mental health: data issues for a post-2015 framework, is available from: 
  • Sightsavers works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people who are blind and visually impaired.
  • HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Its work is strengthened through its global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.
  • ADD International works with disabled people in Africa and Asia for positive change. Since 1985 they have been working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations (DPOs) in some of the poorest countries in Africa and Asia to encourage disabled people to come together to channel their voices and campaign for their own rights.
  • The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is the UK's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

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