Raising the alarm against deepening income disparities in countries around the world, the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) called today for a shift to more inclusive growth patterns – supported by redistributive polices and changes in social norms.
“Inequalities on today's levels are unjust… and they also impede human progress,” said Administrator Helen Clark on the launch of the agency's new report, Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries, which reveals that income inequality increased by 11 per cent in those countries over the two decades between 1990 and 2010.
Among its striking statistics, the report notes that a significant majority of households in developing countries – more than 75 per cent of the world population – are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. Moreover, the richest one per cent of the world population owns about 40 per cent of the world's assets, while the bottom half owns no more than one per cent.
If left unchecked, this deep disparity can undermine the very foundations of development, economic progress and social and domestic peace. Miss Clark adds in her foreword to the report that signals of the sharp differences in wealth, education, and other material resources influence the way people view themselves and others, “and can make equal participation of citizens in political and public life almost impossible.”
But high and persistent inequality goes beyond income, says UNDP, explaining in the report that, among other concerns, while women are participating more in the work force, they remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment and underrepresented among political decision-makers, while continuing to earn significantly less than men.
Equally distressing is that evidence from developing countries shows that children in the lowest wealth quintiles were up to three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children born in the highest wealth quintiles in some regions.
“Social protection has been extended, yet persons with disabilities are up to five times more likely than average to incur catastrophic health expenditures,” adds the report.
Even as redistribution remains very important to inequality reduction, the report calls for a shift towards a more inclusive pattern of growth, one that raises the incomes of poor and low-income households faster than average in order to sustainably reduce inequality, key to the post-2015 development agenda.
UNDP highlights that in an unprecedented global conversation facilitated by the UN that has involved almost 2 million people across the globe, people are demanding a say in the decisions that affect their lives. People are indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities that exist particularly for poorer and marginalized people.
Miss Clark explains that 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 causes and extent of inequalities, their impact, and the ways in which they can be reduced.
“It is only through the action and voices of many that we will be able to curb one of the greatest moral and practical challenges of our times: the quest for equality, shared prosperity, and human well-being,” she declares.