BOGOTA’, DECEMBER 9 – With an index of 0.083 (1 being the best) Italy ranks in the 29th position of the 2019 Human Development Report published today by UNDP in Bogota’. Italy this way enters in the group of countries with “very high human development”, taking into account a 0.776 Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), a new category developed by the UN organization to re-conceptualize the idea of inequality.
“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, at the launch of the report ‘Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century’ in the Colombian capital of Bogota’.
UNDP’s report suggest the need of new tools and measurements. The family one is born into, the presence of violent conflict in one’s birth place: both are among the multiple arbitrary factors which drive and entrench inequalities. Despite its high HDI rank, the report indicates that Italy needs new policies that address the underlying drives of inequality, in a country where social mobility remains challenging.
Thinking beyond income
The 2019 Human Development Index (HDI) and its sister index, the 2019 Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index, set out that the unequal distribution of education, health and living standards stymied countries’ progress. By these measures, 20 per cent of human development progress was lost through inequalities in 2018. The report, therefore, recommends policies that look at but also go beyond income, including:early childhood and lifelong investment, productivity, public spending and fair taxation.
The UNDP report redefines inequality as gaps in human development, other than income: “A human development approach to inequality takes a people-centred view: It is about people’s capabilities to exercise their freedoms to be and do what they aspire to in life.” It calls upon readers to imagine two children born in 2000, one in a very high human development country, the other in a low human development country. It goes on to show how “circumstances almost entirely beyond their control have already set them on different and unequal—and likely irreversible—paths”. Such predetermined paths -drivers and perpetuators of inequality- are also present within countries, both developing and developed.
Looking beyond averages
Averages often hide what is really going on in society, says the HDR, and while they can be helpful in telling a larger story, much more detailed information is needed to create policies to tackle inequality effectively. This is true in tackling the multiple dimensions of poverty, in meeting the needs of those being left furthest behind such as people with disabilities, and in promoting gender equality and empowerment. A new “social norms index” in the Report says that in half of the countries assessed, gender bias has grown in recent years. About fifty per cent of people across 77 countries, said they thought men make better political leaders than women, while more than 40 per cent felt that men made better business executives. Therefore, policies that address underlying biases, social norms and power structures are key. For example, policies to balance the distribution of care, particularly for children, are crucial, says the report, given that much of the difference in earning between men and women throughout their lifecycle is generated before the age of 40.
Planning beyond today
Looking beyond today, the report asks how inequality may change in future, looking particularly at two seismic shifts that will shape life up to the 22nd century. The climate crisis: As a range of global protests demonstrate, policies crucial to tackling the climate crisis like putting a price on carbon can be mis-managed, increasing perceived and actual inequalities for the less well-off, who spend more of their income on energy-intensive goods and services than their richer neighbours. If revenues from carbon pricing are ‘recycled’ to benefit taxpayers as part of a broader social policy package, the authors argue, then such policies could reduce rather than increase inequality.
Technological transformation: Technology, including in the form of renewables and energy efficiency, digital finance and digital health solutions, offers a glimpse of how the future of inequality may break from the past, if opportunities can be seized quickly and shared broadly. There is historical precedent for technological revolutions to carve deep, persistent inequalities – the Industrial Revolution not only opened up the great divergence between industrialized countries and those who depended on primary commodities; it also launched production pathways that culminated in the climate crisis.
The change that is coming goes beyond climate, says the report, but a ‘new great divergence’, driven by artificial intelligence and digital technologies, is not inevitable. The HDR recommends social protection policies that would, for example, ensure fair compensation for ‘crowdwork’, investment in lifelong learning to help workers adjust or change to new occupations, and international consensus on how to tax digital activities – all part of building a new, secure and stable digital economy as a force for convergence, not divergence, in human development.(SB@OnuItalia)