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.
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.
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.
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.
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.