‘In spite of the impressive progress humanity has made on many fronts over the decades, it still remains deeply divided’, according to a new report from the UN Development Programme.
The report revisits the theoretical concepts of inequalities including their measurements, analyzes their global trends, presents the perception of inequalities of policy makers in 15 countries and identifies various policy options for combating this major development challenge of our time.
The UN says the report is intended to help development actors, citizens, and policy makers contribute to global dialogues and initiate conversations in their own countries about the drivers and extent of inequalities, their impact, and the ways in which they can be curbed.
In her remarks at the launch of the report, Helen Clark, head of the UNDP, said: ‘The potential for instability and setbacks if inequalities are not reduced is increasingly recognized by world leaders, and is also preoccupying many of those who are well off, including in global business circles. Ahead of last week’s meetings in Davos, the World Economic Forum issued a report identifying widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk, and warning that inequality is ‘threatening security on a global scale.’
She concluded: ‘let me emphasize that while my remarks have focused on reasons to be concerned about inequality because of its impact on human development progress, inequalities also matter intrinsically because they run contrary to what people consider fair for themselves and others.
‘The first few lines of the UN Charter emphasize the determination of the United Nations to “reaffirm the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”, Helen Clark observed.
Welcoming the report, IFSW Secretary General Rory Truell commented that it is one of several reports which ‘set the context for the forthcoming first report of The Global Observatory for Social Work and Social Development which will be published in July 2014 at the world conference in Melbourne, Australia’. ‘This first report will build on our earlier work with IASSW and ICSW on The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. The report will illustrate how social work can play a crucial role in promoting equalities’, Dr Truell continued.
‘As is clearly illustrated in this substantial analytical study, the research evidence demonstrates how highly unequal societies are socially and individually damaging. This is confirmed in the practice experience known to social workers. IFSW is determined that these social work insights will be brought to world attention and that we will support those working for a more socially just world’, Rory Truell concluded.
Key findings in the report
- On average—and taking into account population size—income inequality increased by 11 percent in developing countries between 1990 and 2010.
- A significant majority of households in developing countries—more than 75 percent of the population—are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s.
- Evidence shows that, beyond a certain threshold, inequality harms growth and poverty reduction, the quality of relations in the public and political spheres of life and individuals’ sense of fulfilment and self-worth.
- There is nothing inevitable about growing income inequality; several countries managed to contain or reduce income inequality while achieving strong growth performance.
- Evidence shows that greater income inequality between households is systematically associated with greater inequality in non-income outcomes.
- Inequality cannot be effectively confronted unless the inextricable links between inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunities are taken into account.
- In a global survey conducted in preparation for this report, policy makers from around the world acknowledged that inequality in their countries is generally high and potentially a threat to long-term social and economic development.
- Redistribution remains very important to inequality reduction; however, a shift is needed towards more inclusive growth patterns in order to sustainably reduce inequality.
- Reducing inequality requires addressing inequality-reproducing cultural norms and strengthening the political agency of disadvantaged groups.
- Evidence from developing countries shows that children in the lowest wealth quintile are still up to three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children in the richest quintiles.
- Social protection has been significantly extended globally, yet persons with disabilities are up to five times more likely than average to incur catastrophic health expenditures.
- Despite overall declines in maternal mortality in the majority of developing countries, women in rural areas are still up to three times more likely to die while giving birth than women living in urban centers.
Speech given by Helen Clark at the launch of the report can be read here.
Visit The Global Agenda website here