Tackling inequalities in a post-2015 framework

22 April 2013
By Christina Hackmann

People everywhere face various kinds of inequalities. We live in a very unequal world, in which the top 20 percent of the population enjoys more than 70 percent of global income, while the bottom quintile shares a meagre 2 percent.

As we approach the 2015 conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) global action plan, work is beginning on the next global development framework, which will set priorities for the years and decades to come. The United Nations is coordinating a series of global consultations this year; leading up to what the President of the UN General Assembly is calling a “landmark” conference on the post-2015 agenda at the opening of the General Assembly in New York on September 25th.

‘Equity, Inequality and Human Development in a post-2015 Framework’, a contribution to this continuing global dialogue published today by UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, considers ways the post-2015 agenda might tackle inequality in all its forms.

The authors, Claire Melamed and Emma Samman of the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI), argue that addressing inequality should be central to the post-2015 development framework. Their paper says inequality must be approached on multiple levels: within countries, among nations, and between generations. Tracking inequalities – for example, the progress of the poorest quintile of the population – is important, but to actually reduce inequality, we must reduce the structural inequalities that cause poverty, they say.

Their paper highlights some of the many examples of severe inequalities that can be found both among and within countries today. Recent data suggests that the poorest 5 percent of Americans earn 35 times more than the poorest Zambians. Between 1980 and 2007, the top 1 percent of Americans nearly tripled their share of U.S. national income, from 8 to 23 percent. In Peru, young adults have a national average of 10 years of schooling – but for poor indigenous women the average is just half that, with most leaving school after just five years.

Inequalities are caused by structural barriers, and new as well as old deprivations. A post-2015 development framework must find ways to build on the progress that has already been made and identify policies that can break down some of the barriers faced by the disadvantaged.

Melamed and Samman advocate for pragmatism in forging the next global development agenda. While the world might be ready to set ambitious targets in areas such as sustainable energy, water, sanitation, and access to knowledge and technology, they point out that other areas like migration and trade should also be taken into account. The authors demand an agenda that pays more attention to social cohesion and social justice, and emphasize that getting the metrics right is critical to improving the reach and effectiveness as of public services.

‘Equity, Inequality and Human Development in a post-2015 Framework’ is available for reading and downloading here

The HDialogue blog is a platform for debate and discussion. Posts reflect the views of respective authors in their individual capacities and not the views of UNDP/HDRO.