Tackling inequality as One UN

16 July 2019
By HDRO and DESA and UN Habitat

The importance of coordinated efforts across the UN system to tackle inequality took center stage at a recent event on the margins of the High-Level Political Forum in New York.

Jointly organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN (DESA) and the UN Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), the event presented diverse approaches to addressing inequality in the 21st Century and discussed what could be done next.

Delivering opening remarks, Mr. Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist at DESA noted the need to refine the way we deal with the challenge of leaving no one behind He shared some preliminary messages from the upcoming World Social Report, highlighting that megatrends such as technological progress, climate change, migration and urbanization, can have many different impacts on inequality.

Ms. Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), spoke about the rise of inequality as an policy consideration. She noted that reducing inequality is no longer solely a moral imperative:data shows that excessive levels of inequality inhibit growth. She also presented key points from ECLAC’s recent publication, “The Inefficiency of Inequality,” which suggests that a culture of privilege has contributed to entrenched inequality in Latin America.

Mr. Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report Office at UNDP, stressed the significance of the event in galvanizing action to combat inequality. Noting that the upcoming Human Development Report will focus on inequality, Mr. Conceição discussed disparities in dimensions beyond income and wealth, such as health and education. He noted that not all trends are negative. In terms of policy, he noted that redistribution is very important but that we must go beyond it to address the norms and values that perpetuate inequality.

Following the opening remarks, the event proceeded with an interactive discussion. Participants noted that other policies, beyond taxation and redistribution, can also tackle the root causes of inequality. I particular there is a need for policy interventions with significant impact at the very earliest stages of children’s lives was highlighted.