Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease,
a “new generation of inequalities” indicates that many societies are not
working as they should, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) argues in its latest report released on Monday.
The 2019 Human
Development Report (HDR) states that just as the gap in
basic living standards is narrowing for millions of people, inequalities surrounding
education, and around technology and climate change, have sparked
demonstrations across the globe.
Left unchecked, they could trigger a ‘new great
divergence’ in society of the kind not seen since the Industrial
Revolution, according to the report.
“This Human Development Report sets out how systemic inequalities are
deeply damaging our society and why,” said Achim Steiner, the UNDP Administrator.
“Inequality is not just about how much someone earns compared to
their neighbour. It is about the unequal distribution of wealth and power:
the entrenched social and political norms that are bringing people
onto the streets today, and the triggers that will do so in the future unless
something changes. Recognizing the real face of inequality is a first step;
what happens next is a choice that each leader must make.”
‘Inequality not beyond solutions’
Mr. Steiner added crucially that “inequality is not beyond
The human development approach views “richness” as going beyond the idea
that economic growth will automatically lead to development and
It focuses on people, and their opportunities and
UNDP research shows that in 2018, 20 per cent of human development
progress was lost due to the unequal distribution of education, health and
“What used to be ‘nice-to-haves’, like going to university or access to
broadband, are increasingly important for success, but left only with the
basics, people find the rungs knocked out of their ladder to the
future,” said Pedro Conceição, Director of the HDR Office at
Invest in education, productivity, public
The report recommends revamped policies in the areas of
education, productivity and public spending.
As inequality begins even before birth and can accumulate through
adulthood, investing in young children’s learning, health and nutrition
is key. These investments must continue throughout life as they have
an impact on earnings and productivity in the labour market.
UNDP observed that countries with a more productive workforce generally
have a lower concentration of wealth at the top, which is enabled by policies
that support stronger unions, the right to a minimum wage, social protection
and which bring more women into the workplace.
The report further highlights the role of taxation, which cannot be
looked at on its own. Rather, fair taxation should lie
behind policies that include greater public spending on health, education
and greener energy alternatives.
As the UNDP chief noted, “Different triggers are bringing people onto
the streets — the cost of a train ticket, the price of petrol, demands for
political freedoms, the pursuit of fairness and justice. This is the new face
Looking to the future, the report asks how inequality might be
viewed years down the line, especially in relation to “two seismic
shifts” that will shape the next century.
Those are the climate crisis, and the progress of the technological
transformation that includes renewables and energy efficiency, digital finance
and digital health solutions.
The report calls for opportunities to be “seized quickly and shared