Social Development Briefs

UN Photo Africa 2020

11. Covid-19 and popular protests

The wave of popular protests seen in 2019 has largely subsided in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. New restrictions on movement and assembly are limiting large-scale gatherings, while opinion polls suggest that people in some affected countries are “rallying ‘round the flag”, as concerns about the impact of the crisis likely overtake long standing grievances. But as the immediate health crisis morphs into a long-term economic and social crisis with huge human costs, it has the potential to exacerbate past grievances, further undermining social cohesion and trust in institutions. Policies that ensure a more equitable, inclusive and less uncertain future are essential to avoid a return of widespread mass protests.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Covid-19 and popular protests”

10. Polarization of the labour market: are middle-skill jobs disappearing?

Recent evidence suggests that labour markets are becoming increasingly polarized (World Bank, 2016; Breemersch, Damijan and Konings, 2017; Goos, Manning and Salomons, 2010; Autor, 2010). Middle-skill occupations are losing ground compared to low- and high-skill occupations. Skill-biased technological change, off-shoring, deindustrialization, import competition and labour market institutions are often cited as driving factors. This trend has, to an extent, contributed to the rise in income inequality observed in many countries as argued in the World Social Report 2020.

The discussion on polarization is often focused on the experience of developed countries, but there is some evidence that a similar trend is unfolding in developing countries (World Bank, 2016). Has the share of middle-skill jobs universally declined and does this imply these jobs have disappeared en-masse in favour of low- and high-skill employment? This brief explores the data and concludes that middle-skill employment continues to play a vital role in the global labour market.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Polarization of the labour market: are middle-skill jobs disappearing?”

9. Who gets what? The political economy of redistribution 

The World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a Rapidly Changing World recognizes that mobilizing support for policies to promote greater equality can be difficult. However, it also points to pathways for political action to reduce inequality (United Nations, 2020). This brief explores the barriers to redistribution and how Governments can create an enabling environment for equitable change.

Barriers to redistribution Inequality is a major concern. In 2014, 60 per cent of survey respondents across 44 developed and developing countries, agreed that “the gap between the rich and poor is a very big problem” facing their countries (Pew Research Center, 2014). Rising inequalities can lead to a concentration of political influence by wealthy individuals, groups or corporations.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Who gets what? The political economy of redistribution”

8. Income inequality trends: the choice of indicators matters

Income inequality levels and trends vary greatly by country and depending  on the indicator used. In its Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2016, the World Bank finds that income inequality within countries somewhat declined between the late 1990s and 2013 (World Bank, 2016). In contrast, the World Inequality Lab states that income inequality has increased in most countries in recent decades (World Inequality Lab, 2017). How can these two leading sources of information reach such different conclusions?

Read our Social Development Brief on “Income inequality trends: the choice of indicators matters”

7. Social protection for indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities: Overcoming discrimination and geographic isolation

A shared history of exclusion and discrimination based on identity has led to higher levels of poverty and disadvantage among many ethnic minority and indigenous groups than among dominant ethnic groups. While recent years have witnessed improvement in the situation of many ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, others continue to be left behind.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Social protection for indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities: Overcoming discrimination and geographic isolation”

6. Social protection systems and measures for all? International migrants are left far behind

Migration is an integral part of the global development process. The lives of millions of people and whole societies have been transformed, mostly for the better, through international migration. Despite the important contributions that migrants make to the economies of both their host and home countries, many migrants lack basic social protection coverage in their countries of destination. This social development brief examines gaps in migrants’ access to social protection and discusses ways to improve their coverage. The brief summarizes findings from the Report on the World Social Situation 2018 (“Promoting Social Inclusion through Social Protection”).

Read our Social Development Brief on “Social protection systems and measures for all? International migrants are left far behind”

5. Promoting the inclusion of young people through social protection

Social protection is a potent policy tool to protect people from poverty throughout the life cycle. It can also reduce inequality and social exclusion. However, as the Report on the World Social Situation 2018 (United Nations, forthcoming) makes clear, access to social protection varies significantly depending on a person’s background or identity, including their age, race, and gender. This can limit its potential to promote inclusion.

In 2015, young people aged 15 to 24 years accounted for 1.2 billion, or 16 per cent, of the world’s population (United Nations, 2017). Creating a social and economic environment that enables these young people to thrive in adulthood—including through pathways to decent work—is central to promoting their inclusion. But when opportunities for work are lacking, social protection can play a vital role in addressing exclusionary risks. Unfortunately, the specific needs of young people are rarely the focus of social protection systems, even though failing to invest in youth can have long-term implications for society.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Promoting the inclusion of young people through social protection”

4. Prejudice and discrimination: Barriers to social inclusion

Societies continue to make distinctions based on ethnicity, race, sex or gender and other characteristics that should have no bearing on people’s achievements or on their well-being. The Report on the World Social Situation 2016 argued that discrimination is one of the key drivers of social exclusion (United Nations, 2016).

Discrimination remains a fundamental problem in the world today. Based on existing literature, the Report found that discriminatory norms and behaviours remain widespread and continue to drive social exclusion. Yet while formal institutional barriers faced by marginalized groups are easy to detect, informal barriers are frequently more subtle, making measuring discrimination di cult.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Prejudice and discrimination: Barriers to social inclusion”

3. Employment Opportunities: Do Race and Ethnicity Matter?

An important step towards meeting the 2030 Agenda’s aspiration of leaving no one behind is to identify who is being left behind and from what. Hoping to contribute to this discussion, the recently released Report on the World Social Situation 2016 (United Nations, 2016) examines group-based inequalities, with the focus being mainly on the disadvantages faced by youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities and migrants. The report’s analysis shows that disparities in access to education, health care, infrastructure and employment as well as inequalities in political participation are pervasive and symptomatic of the exclusion of members of these groups.

Regarding employment opportunities, the report shows that the share of ethnic and racial minority workers in skilled -managerial, professional and technical- occupations is lower than that of workers in the majority or dominant ethnic group in a majority of countries with data. Differences in education certainly explain some of these disparities. For some groups, namely indigenous peoples and some ethnic minorities, employment opportunities are also curtailed by spatial disadvantages, as they live more often in rural, remote areas characterized by poor infrastructure and little access to off-farm work.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Employment Opportunities: Do Race and Ethnicity Matter?”.

2. Policy Imperatives for Leaving No One Behind

With its central pledge to leave no one behind, the historic and ambitious 2030 Agenda recognizes that development will only be sustainable if it is inclusive. Promoting inclusion is fundamental to achieving a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable future.

No single set of policies or strategies is applicable across all countries and in all contexts to tackle exclusion and promote inclusion. Instead, Governments should bring a stronger equity lens to policy-making. Successful examples point to several imperatives to address the structural causes of exclusion and social injustice.

A universal approach to social policy, complemented by special or targeted measures The first imperative is to establish a universal approach to social policy, complemented by special or targeted measures to address the distinct obstacles faced by disadvantaged, marginalized or otherwise excluded social groups.

Special efforts are needed, even if temporarily, to overcome the barriers some groups face and make the universal provision of goods and services more effective in promoting social inclusion. Governments should design these measures in ways that minimize stigma and capture by local elites, and must integrate them fully into broader social protection systems. Policies aimed at tackling discrimination, as well as those that provide preferential access to some services, enable the participation of excluded persons and communities in decision-making processes.

Read our Social Development Brief on “Policy Imperatives for Leaving No One Behind”.

1. Leaving no one behind? Mixed Success

The 2030 Agenda’s pledge to leave no one behind demands that progress towards the Agenda’s goals and targets be faster among the most disadvantaged social groups. Without quicker improvements among those who are lagging further behind, the systematic disparities described in the Report on the World Social Situation 2016 (United Nations, 2016) will not decline. While the data needed to monitor progress in all goals and targets for each group that is disadvantaged or at risk are not systematically available, the existing data illustrate the complexity of establishing whether some people are being left behind. Much depends on contexts and on the indicators used to assess progress.

Health inequalities between social groups, for instance, have evolved differently across countries, regions and by group. By way of example, figure 1 shows recent trends in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 2.2.1, the prevalence of stunting (having a low height for age) among children under age five by ethnic group in three developing countries.

Read the Social Development Brief: Leaving no one behind? Mixed Success.


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