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UN Human Development Report 2019 says that Global Inequality is now more about disparities in opportunities

Written by Miguel Cordeiro

Partnerships Manager Europe at Sustainable Development Alliance | Founder Start Europe

7th December 2019

UN Human Development Report 2019 says that Global Inequality is now more about disparities in opportunity than disparities in income.

The 2019 Human Development Report was released yesterday the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) argues that 20th-century thinking on global inequality no longer works in the 21st century.

The report warns that a new generation of inequities are driving street protests and damaging societies — and they’re on track to get worse.

Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator, argues that global inequality is now more about disparities in opportunity than disparities in income” and sums up the problem this way: “an increasing number of young people are educated, connected and stuck with no ladder of choices to move up.”

The report also underlines that “A new generation of inequalities is opening up, around education, and around technology and climate change — two seismic shifts that, unchecked, could trigger a ‘new great divergence’ in society of the kind not seen since the Industrial Revolution”.

Human Development Report 2019 launch in Bogotá — ©UNDP Colombia

Many of the street protests popping up around the globe are driven by a growing sense that societies are rigged to favor the powerful and trap the masses in low-wages and lack of opportunities. The demonstrations sweeping across the world today signal that, despite unprecedented progress against poverty, hunger and disease, many societies are not working as they should. The connecting thread is inequality.

This year alone we have seen massive protests in more than 20 cities worldwide. These protests are geographically dispersed and seemingly unrelated, and we can’t say that inequality is the only cause, but we certainly point it out as a major factor.

Hong Kong protest

“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 of inequality, and as this Human Development Report sets out, inequality is not beyond solutions,” says UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner.

UNDP’s Pedro Conceição, who oversees the Human Development Report, says that “Inequalities in human development remain high and widespread”, noting that, “If we look at what happened to a child born in the year 2000 in a low human development country compared to a child born in a very high human development country, there’s a 17% probability that the child [from the low development country] is not alive today, 20 years after she was born, while in a very high human development country, there’s only a 1% chance that the child is not alive today.”

And the problem is not only in the health arena. Pedro Conceição says that “More than half of the children born in wealthy countries in the year 2000 are enrolled in university today, yet only 3% of the year-2000 babies from the poorest countries are in higher education.”

Regarding Gender Equality, the report cites that “based on current trends, it will take 202 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity alone.”

Gender Equality

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, says that “this Human Development Report sets out how systemic inequalities are deeply damaging our society and why,” and “Inequality is not just about how much someone earns compared to their neighbor. 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.”

The report can be donwloaded here.

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