01 November 2012

Inequality Must Be a Part of the Post-2015 Agenda, says Save the Children

The global fight against extreme poverty is progressing well with a reduction from 2 billion people living in extreme poverty in 1990 to under 1.3 billion today. The gains provide reason for celebration, but hide a rising level of inequality between the rich and the poor. Inequality in some countries has risen by as much as 179% in some developing countries, says a new report from Save the Children.

While reduction in poverty is improving the lives of many, inequality has negative impact on the health and development of children, say Finnish Minister for International Development in the report introduction. Born Equal is one of the first attempts to measure inequality among children.

Researchers surveyed 32 developing countries finding that children born to the richest 10% of households have 35 times the effective available income, meaning the amount of money available to spend on the child, as opposed to children living in the bottom 10% of households. Further, the gap between the two groups has expanded by 35% over the past two decades.

Girl working at the hills near Kayonza
Girl working at the hills near Kayonza, Uganda. Credit
The report comes out at the time when a high level UN panel meets to begin outlining the agenda that will follow once the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. UK Prime Minister David Cameroon, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia serve as the co-chairs for the panel that was convened by the Secretary General earlier in the year.

“I have asked my High-level Panel to prepare a bold yet practical development vision to present to Member States next year,” said Secretary General Ban ki-Moon when announcing the panel. “I look forward to the Panel’s recommendations on a global post-2015 agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries and with the fight against poverty and sustainable development at its core.”

Prime Minister Cameron published an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal this morning calling for a "radical new approach to address the causes of poverty." He outlines his 'golden thread' theory that seeks to make aid a catalytic force in the development of low and middle income countries.

Cameron explains, "A genuine golden thread would tie together economic, social and political progress in countries the world over. And we need to make a new priority of strengthening the vital institutions that enable and defend that progress. Because only then will farmers be able to get their crops to market quickly and safely. Only then will people escape the fear of seeing their homes bulldozed just because they don't have property rights. Only then will girls in Pakistan have the skills and education to get decent jobs when they grow up. And only then will women the world over have the same legal rights as men to own farms, take out loans or inherit the family home."

Save the Children hopes that it can lean on Cameron and the co-chairs to take the issue of inequality seriously. “Unless inequality is addressed, the MDGs and any future development framework will simply not succeed in maintaining or accelerating progress," said Save the Children's CEO Justin Forsyth. "What’s more, it will hold individual countries – and the world – back from experiencing real growth and prosperity.”

With inequality twice as high among children as compared to the general population, the report sets forth a series of recommendations for the Post-2015 framework. At the forefront of the recommendations is the inclusion of goals that tackle inequality and focus on alleviating the burdens felt by the poorest people in the world. The report encourages strong coordination between countries, robust accountability mechanisms and financial support for implementing the goals.

The frameworks that are to be determined for 2015 and onward will be different from the MDGs. One of the criticisms of the MDGs was that they were determined at an international level and largely by Western influencers. The UN panel represents a different approach by including experts and leaders from around the world.

Claire Melemed of the Overseas Development Institute advised Cameron in the Guardian earlier this week on the importance of the post-2015 agenda. Melemed points to the environment as one area that is as important as it is challenging. "A good agreement on a post-2015 development agenda will be simple (not too many issues), specific (some numbers), and symmetrical (with obligations and commitments for all countries). If that's not what we get, it will be a sign of an appalling failure that will affect the poorest people most," she writes.

As the leaders meet today to begin the process of determining what will follow the MDGs, international actors will watch carefully to see what topics and trends emerge to potentially shape the new agenda. Save the Children's Head of Research, Alex Cobham, hopes that inequality will find its way into the discussions. "Without challenging these deeply damaging trends in the post-2015 framework, there is little hope of making the scale of development progress that we are aiming for," he writes.