Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Third Committee side event: The imperative of inclusive development:
Who is being left behind?

One year after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, Heads of State, meeting at the General Assembly last week, highlighted once again the unprecedented social progress humankind has achieved in the last decades.

Poverty has declined dramatically around the world. People are healthier, more educated and better connected than ever before. The spread of democratic ideals, together with the expansion of education and improvements in communication technologies, are creating more opportunities for inclusive development.

Yet, across the globe, persistently high levels of inequality remain a grave concern as individuals and groups of people confront systemic barriers to their full participation in social, economic, political and cultural life. It is against this backdrop of high inequalities and persistent social exclusion that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledged that no one will be left behind.

Determining who is being left behind and in what ways people are excluded are challenging endeavours. People can be excluded from many domains of life, be they social, economic, political or spatial. And the relevance of each domain depends, among other things, on where people live and on their age.

The Report on the World Social Situation 2016 aims to inform the social inclusion debate. The report illustrates patterns of social exclusion and considers whether development processes have been inclusive.

Paying particular attention to the critical links that exist between poverty, lack of employment and social exclusion, the report recommends concerted actions that Governments might wish to take to overcome these development hurdles.

The report confirms that a person’s chances in life depend significantly on social distinctions that separate people and communities into unequal groups. In particular, ethnicity, age, disability and migrant status affect access to opportunities, including health and education services, jobs, income and participation in political and civic life.

Not only are these differences in life chances fundamentally unfair. They also lead to loss of human potential and development opportunities.

The evidence available illustrates key aspects of the exclusion of some social groups.

For instance, children with disabilities and those belonging to ethnic minorities face unique barriers in the educational system, particularly in rural areas. They are less likely to enrol in school and, once they enrol, they are less likely to complete primary and secondary education.

Drawing on data available from 10 countries, the report shows that ethnic minority children are 35 per cent less likely to complete lower secondary education than children from the ethnic majority in rural areas, on average, and 25 per cent less likely in urban areas.

In the labour market, youth, migrants, women and workers belonging to an indigenous group are more often unemployed and in the informal sector than other workers. They receive lower salaries and are even more likely not to receive any salaries at all. Often because they work in an enterprise owned by a family member.

The report shows that 18 per cent of youth (ages 15-24) work in unpaid jobs as compared to 9 per cent of adult workers (25-59), on average, worldwide.

The disadvantages faced by these groups and individuals reinforce each another. Lower levels of health and education go hand in hand with higher levels of unemployment and with lower levels of income.

For example, in four countries with data highlighted in the report, the average income of indigenous persons is between 40 and 70 per cent of the income of the wider population. Similarly, the report highlights seven countries with available data in which the income of persons with disabilities is between 47 and 80 per cent that of persons without disabilities.

Not only are members of these disadvantaged social groups more likely to live in poverty, but they experience deeper poverty than the rest of the population.

All these disadvantages result also in less voice in political processes and lower participation in cultural events and in civic life.

Disadvantage in one area, alone – say in education or in terms of political participation- does not constitute social exclusion in and by itself. It is the systemic disadvantage in economic, social, political, cultural and other domains among certain social groups that the report takes as a symptom of their exclusion.

It is important to note, however, that group-based inequalities are not uniform across countries. Some countries, including developing countries, have been able to promote inclusion. Therefore, institutions, laws and policies in place matter.

In many ways, the world has become less and less tolerant of social exclusion. Many Governments have repealed discriminatory policies. However, prejudice and discriminatory attitudes remain widespread in everyday life. They continue to affect the opportunities people have and their overall well-being.

Overall, there is growing awareness of the risks of leaving some people behind. But this awareness has not yet translated into the normative shifts that are necessary to promote their inclusion.

What are the implications for policy?

The report reiterates the need for a stronger equity lens to policy-making in order to address the root causes of systemic disadvantage. It argues for universal social policies and for the promotion of inclusive institutions. Open, supportive institutions are necessary to correct asymmetries of power and promote the participation of marginalized individuals and groups.

Often, social policy has been used only provisionally, to cushion the undesirable effects of crises and other shocks. The report contends that a universal approach to social policy is key to addressing the underlying causes of exclusion and social injustice. It also shows that basic, universal social protection and universal access to primary and secondary education are affordable for many countries, but require international support in some.

Because of existing imbalances, universal social policies should certainly be complemented by special or targeted measures to address the distinct obstacles faced by individuals and groups at high risk of exclusion.

Leaving no one behind calls for institutional change as well. Ensuring that institutions are inclusive can contribute to levelling the playing field and provide all citizens with opportunities to participate in public life on equal terms.

Changing the social, cultural and political norms and institutions that underpin or perpetuate unequal power relations, while necessary, is often a long-term process, dependent on national and local circumstances. However with political will, Governments can influence and help transform them.

I look forward to the discussion and your ideas for promoting inclusive development and leaving no one behind.

Thank you.

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