Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report

World Bank/Sarah Farhat Students attend class at Zanaki primary school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Inequality is growing for more than 70 per cent of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. But the rise is far from inevitable and can be tackled at a national and international level, says a flagship study released by the UN on Tuesday.

The World Social Report 2020, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.

The challenges are underscored by UN chief António Guterres in the foreword, in which he states that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape”, in which economic woes, inequalities and job insecurity have led to mass protests in both developed and developing countries.

“Income disparities and a lack of opportunities”, he writes, “are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”

‘The one per cent’ winners take (almost) all

The study shows that the richest one per cent of the population are the big winners in the changing global economy, increasing their share of income between 1990 and 2015, while at the other end of the scale, the bottom 40 per cent earned less than a quarter of income in all countries surveyed.

One of the consequences of inequality within societies, notes the report, is slower economic growth. In unequal societies, with wide disparities in areas such as health care and education, people are more likely to remain trapped in poverty, across several generations.

Between countries, the difference in average incomes is reducing, with China and other Asian nations driving growth in the global economy. Nevertheless, there are still stark differences between the richest and poorest countries and regions: the average income in North America, for example, is 16 times higher than that of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Four global forces affecting inequality

The report looks at the impact that four powerful global forces, or megatrends, are having on inequality around the world: technological innovation, climate change, urbanization and international migration.

Whilst technological innovation can support economic growth, offering new possibilities in fields such as health care, education, communication and productivity, there is also evidence to show that it can lead to increased wage inequality, and displace workers.

Rapid advances in areas such as biology and genetics, as well as robotics and artificial intelligence, are transforming societies at pace. New technology has the potential to eliminate entire categories of jobs but, equally, may generate entirely new jobs and innovations.

For now, however, highly skilled workers are reaping the benefits of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution”, whilst low-skilled and middle-skilled workers engaged in routine manual and cognitive tasks, are seeing their opportunities shrink.

Opportunities in a crisis

As the UN’s 2020 report on the global economy showed last Thursday, the climate crisis is having a negative impact on quality of life, and vulnerable populations are bearing the brunt of environmental degradation and extreme weather events. Climate change, according to the World Social Report, is making the world’s poorest countries even poorer, and could reverse progress made in reducing inequality among countries.

If action to tackle the climate crisis progresses as hoped, there will be job losses in carbon-intensive sectors, such as the coal industry, but the “greening” of the global economy could result in overall net employment gains, with the creation of many new jobs worldwide.

For the first time in history, more people live in urban than rural areas, a trend that is expected to continue over the coming years. Although cities drive economic growth, they are more unequal than rural areas, with the extremely wealthy living alongside the very poor.

The scale of inequality varies widely from city to city, even within a single country: as they grow and develop, some cities have become more unequal whilst, in others, inequality has declined.

Migration a ‘powerful symbol of global inequality’

The fourth megatrend, international migration, is described as both a “powerful symbol of global inequality”, and “a force for equality under the right conditions”.

Migration within countries, notes the report, tends to increase once countries begin to develop and industrialize, and more inhabitants of middle-income countries than low-income countries migrate abroad.

International migration is seen, generally, as benefiting both migrants, their countries of origin (as money is sent home) and their host countries.

In some cases, where migrants compete for low-skilled work, wages may be pushed down, increasing inequality but, if they offer skills that are in short supply, or take on work that others are not willing to do, they can have a positive effect on unemployment.

Harness the megatrends for a better world

Despite a clear widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots worldwide, the report points out that this situation can be reversed. Although the megatrends have the potential to continue divisions in society, they can also, as the Secretary-General says in his foreword, “be harnessed for a more equitable and sustainable world”. Both national governments and international organizations have a role to play in levelling the playing field and creating a fairer world for all.

Reducing inequality should, says the report, play a central role in policy-making. This means ensuring that the potential of new technology is used to reduce poverty and create jobs; that vulnerable people grow more resilient to the effects of climate change; cities are more inclusive; and migration takes place in a safe, orderly and regular manner.

Three strategies for making countries more egalitarian are suggested in the report: the promotion of equal access to opportunities (through, for example, universal access to education); fiscal policies that include measures for social policies, such as unemployment and disability benefits; and legislation that tackles prejudice and discrimination, whilst promoting greater participation of disadvantaged groups.

While action at a national level is crucial, the report declares that “concerted, coordinated and multilateral action” is needed to tackle major challenges affecting inequality within and among countries.

The report’s authors conclude that, given the importance of international cooperation, multilateral institutions such as the UN should be strengthened and action to create a fairer world must be urgently accelerated.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides the blueprint for a better future for people and the planet, recognizes that major challenges require internationally coordinated solutions, and contains concrete and specific targets to reduce inequality, based on income.                    

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

ECOFIN: Protecting bankers and tax-evaders

Young people meet in Malta to shape the future of Europe

Iraq: Over 150,000 children endangered by ‘freezing’ temperatures, warns UNICEF

The COP24 Agreement: Yes, it happened at last

‘The time for action is now’ senior UN peacekeeping official says, urging support for regional force combating Sahel terrorism

Migration surge leaves children stranded, begging on Djibouti’s streets

The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

IMF: When high yield goes boom

Climate adaptation could make the world more peaceful

“Asia-Pacific takes stock of ambitious development targets”, written by the Heads of UNFPA and ESCAP

Brexit: European Commission recommends the European Council (Article 50) to endorse the agreement reached on the revised Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland and revised Political Declaration

UN Chief ‘strongly rejects’ Guatemala decision to expel anti-corruption body

G20 GDP growth nudges up to 1.0% in the second quarter of 2018

Huge data gaps’ hampering ‘evidence-based’ national migration policies

EU: 13 major banks may pay fines 10% of worldwide turnover

In DR Congo, UN Security Council says December polls are ‘historic opportunity’ for country

Nauru President warns of possible climate change ‘economic Armageddon’

The last goodbye of JADE’s Executive Board 2019

The revenge of the fallen

INTERVIEW: Poverty, education and inclusion top new General Assembly President’s priority list

GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa on 16-18 July 2019, in association with The European Sting

EU allocates €50 million to fight Ebola and malnutrition in the Democratic Republic of Congo

EU economy: Between recession and indiscernible growth

UN experts cite ‘possible exploitation’ of workers hired to clean up toxic Japanese nuclear plant

More hiring freedom can reduce teacher shortages in disadvantaged areas

Brexit negotiations: Can May’s Britain bounce back?

Ensuring the ‘lungs of the planet’ keep us alive: 5 things you need to know about forests and the UN

Real EU unemployment rate at 10.2%+4.1%+4.7%: Eurostat Update

Africa’s future is innovation rather than industrialization

Seaweed, enzymes and compostable cups: Can ‘Big Food’ take on plastic and win?

Sweden must urgently implement reforms to boost fight against foreign bribery

Can China deal with climate change without the U.S.?

Lessons from the Global Entrepreneurship Index

UN expert ‘shocked’ by Egyptian reprisals against human rights defenders she met

What’s happening to Greenland will affect the whole world – and our leaders need to understand why

Claude Akpokavie, Senior ILO Adviser:“Engaging in policy debates and organizing workers, are two key challenges faced by unions in Export processing zones”

This 12-year-old built an underwater robot to fight plastic pollution

Saudi Arabia expresses ‘regret and pain’ over Khashoggi killing, during UN rights review

EU shapes its ambitious strategy on India

UN agency chiefs condemn Saudi-coalition led air strike that killed dozens in western Yemen

The EU approves a new package of budget assistance to the Republic of Moldova to support rule of law and rural development reforms

EU supports recovery and resilience in Nigeria with additional €50 million

Protecting farmers and quality products: vote on EU farm policy reform plans

Fairer and clearer rules on social benefits for EU mobile workers agreed

How to help companies become global defenders of LGBTI rights

Costa Coffee products (Copyright: Costa Coffee; Source: Costa Coffee website, Press area)

The start of the “Caffeine rush”: Coca-Cola acquires Costa Coffee days after Nestlé-Starbucks deal

5 things you probably didn’t know about global health

The Government of China and UNIDO partner to develop technical guidelines for standards of small hydropower development

5 lessons for the future success of virtual and augmented reality

The Commission tells Berlin it is legally obliged to help Eurozone out of stagnation

Climate change: won or lost in cities or by cities?

More refugees being helped by family, work and study permits, finds OECD and UNHCR study

EU unveils plan to accelerate Capital Markets Union ahead of London’s departure from the bloc

Parliament demands ban on neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the EU

2014 will bring more European Union for the big guys and less for the weak

EU’s tougher privacy rules: WhatsApp and Facebook set to be soon aligned with telcos

Draghi: A bridge from Brussels to Berlin

Six ways to cut through the Middle East’s geopolitical fog

Boardroom warriors: how CEOs are becoming champions of change

New state aid rules: Commission increases national support to farmers up to €25,000

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s