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Is inequality inevitable?




Inequality is in the headlines every day. Most of us now, unfortunately, are used to the bold police condemning racial injustice, gender violence and the rising cost of living. Inequality even defined the Covid-19 pandemic; from who is infected to who gets vaccinated first. In this context, we can be forgiven for thinking that inequality is only collateral for the world in which we live: “This is how it has always been, and this is how it will always be. “. However, inequality is not inevitable.

The UNDP Pakistan National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2020 on Inequalities, titled “The Three Ps of Inequality: Power, People and Politics,” attempts to highlight this idea. Written by former finance minister Dr Hafiz Pasha, the report examines inequalities of income and opportunity in Pakistan and outlines a reform agenda that can put the country on the path to an equal society.

Earlier this month, the NHDR 2020 was jointly launched by the Honorable Prime Minister Imran Khan and Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Director of the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. In a special message written for the report, Mr. Asad Umar, Federal Minister of Planning, Development and Special Reforms, mentions the idea of ​​two different Pakistans – one for the richest in the country and the other for the poorer. In its exploration of inequalities, the NHDR 2020 highlights how three factors of inequality create these two different Pakistans, and presents a plan to overcome inequalities in the country.

The Three Ps: The Main Drivers of Inequality: The Pakistan NHDR 2020 identifies the three Ps that fuel inequality in Pakistan: power, people and politics. Power, the primary driver of inequality, concerns privileged groups who use loopholes, networks and policies to their advantage. It is therefore not surprising that the richest 1% of the Pakistani population owns more than 9% of the national income. This finding follows on from the 2020 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR), which highlights how people who have more are able to harness their environment and shift the associated costs onto those who have less. The HDR therefore attempts to address the “glaring imbalances of power and opportunity” that impede progress. The first “P” of Power in Pakistan’s NHDR also highlights this theme.

People, the second driver of inequality, refer to deeply held belief systems that encourage prejudices against social identities such as race, class, gender, religion or caste, among others. In Pakistan, for example, around three million people live in modern slavery as bonded laborers. NHDR 2020 consultations with these workers highlighted that they often face poor working conditions and even violence in their attempts to repay debts from their ancestors.

Politics, the third factor of inequality, speaks of systems and strategies that are either ineffective or at odds with the principles of social justice. This may be the consequence of poor implementation or even a systemic lack of focus on the most vulnerable groups in the country. For example, current Pakistani government spending on human development dimensions such as education, health and social services is estimated at only 3.5% of GDP, lower than most countries in South Asia. . The increased spending will undoubtedly lead to better results for the country.

The NHDR 2020 shows how the main drivers of power, people and politics combine to create inequalities in Pakistan, benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor. But what is the impact of the three Ps on the country?

The two different Pakistans – a by-product of inequality: The NHDR 2020 shows how the main drivers of inequality lead to two different Pakistans of the haves and have-nots. For example, the richest 20% of the Pakistani population have an HDI of 0.698, which is classified as high human development, while the poorest 20% have an HDI of only 0.419, which corresponds to low development. human. This difference is also apparent at the regional level. Sindh has the highest human development value in the country, followed by Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and then Balochistan. However, progress in some regions is already visible. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, although ranked third, has actually improved human development the fastest in the country, promising significantly better outcomes for its residents.

Inequality, in this sense, is far from being a statistic. It affects the schools that children from poor backgrounds can attend, the quality of health care that a transgender person can access, and even the jobs that a person with a disability can obtain. The only way to improve these lived experiences of inequality is therefore to focus on a singular vision of inclusion, responsibility and progress.

The One Goal – Overcoming Inequalities: Ultimately, Pakistan’s NHDR 2020 points to one goal – a country that is equal both economically and in terms of services, opportunities and acceptance towards people. marginalized groups. This has become particularly important in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic, which left five million people in Pakistan unemployed in June 2020, and will lead to 28 million more people living below the poverty line by now the end of 2021.

The NHDR 2020 shows that eliminating inequalities is both necessary and possible. It does so by defining a three-point program targeting policies and reforms for the betterment of the country. First, Pakistan must reduce the privileges of the elite, which will involve sweeping tax reforms, the elimination of subsidies and measures to ensure equitable access to land and capital. Second, the country must spend more on human development and social protection, which will lay the foundations for building human capacities, bridging regional disparities and reducing inequality of opportunity. Finally, the NHDR 2020 reform program stresses the importance of improving working conditions and creating jobs. This includes strengthening workers’ rights, increasing the minimum wage and increasing non-marginal work opportunities for women.

Overcoming inequalities will lead to significant progress in human development – a concept essential to the success of countries like Pakistan. Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq has often spoken of “human security,” a concept closely linked to his approach to human development. He said it meant “a child that did not die, a disease that did not spread, (…) a human spirit that was not crushed”. Pakistan’s NHDR 2020 agrees, recognizing that these inequalities are not a prerequisite for Pakistan. With the will to reduce privileges, prioritize human development and improve working conditions, inequalities can be overcome and – with it – Pakistan’s overall development accelerated.

Posted in The Express Tribune on May 4, 2021.

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