#36 Reduced inequalities – yes please

Image of UN goal 10
Image by United Nations

When considering what to write about Sustainability Development Goal Target 10 – Reduced Inequalities there were at first more negatives to share than positives. The topic of inequality has become like the small pox disease of the 21st century. The only problem is we are yet to find the cure. What does give me hope is that just like small pox there must be an antidote and a cure. With many Charities hoping to find this cure it can be a crowded space.

Oxfam is just one of many charities across the globe working with poor communities in wealthy countries as well as working with poor communities in poor countries. Interestingly in an article titled Why the money development charities spend in Britain is so vital to their work charted some opposing media responses to such work. For example in 1994 Oxfam was challenged as to why it was setting up UK poverty program

To the ragged, starving desperate peoples of Africa, Asia and South America, Oxfam’s new found ‘obligation’ must look like a sick joke

Fortunately two decades on and the media has changed its focus along with the need for all communities and the global goals to become relevant at both an international and domestic level.

Many long-standing charities could possibly express the same experience as Oxfam. As a rule Oxfam have been quite revolutionary in leading the inequality debate. In an earlier 2016 report statements were made how the current economy was for 1% of the population (2010 Oxfam Briefing Paper). In this new millennium there was never a time when so few people controlled so much wealth.

For those who may be reading this thinking yes very sad for the other side of the pond but fortunately here in Australia we are all good the lucky country – this Blog and SDG Target 10 is a challenge for you!

In Australia, land of the ‘fair go’, not everyone gets an equal slice of the pie presents the statement of ‘fair go’ being interpreted by the four past Prime Ministers (four PM’s in the past decade with two of them being voted out by their own party-a reasonably short space in time). Prior to current Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull) being Prime Minister the following sentiments were shared:

We have a very unique culture in Australia and we have a very good mixture of capitalism and free market, but we also have a culture of fair go, of looking after each other

This debate brings the leadership of the country as being key to setting the scene for how inequalities are presented. If reduced inequalities means ‘all citizens should have the same chance to develop their natural abilities, regardless of their backgrounds.’ It makes me curious how Australia may be achieving this – especially looking after each other? In considering if/how Australia matches up to these aspirations in recent research by Peter Whiteford relative poverty rate has been between 10% and 14% of households since 2000. In this around 5% of households were suffering from what is referred to as ‘deep exclusion’. This brings the debate back to the topic of equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity is often measured by understanding whether children end up in a different income category form their parents – intergenerational elasticity. Unfortunately in Australia there are relatively few studies on the topic of intergenerational elasticity.

There is also an inequalities debate for Australia due to something referred to as the GINI Coefficient (for those choosing to further understand economics please review website listed in references). More importantly the measure income inequality and in Australia there has been an increase over recent decades.

In 2011, the OECD reported that according to 2008 figures, “the average income of the top 10% of Australians was….nearly 10 times higher than that of the bottom 10%. Australia is once again more equal than the US, but more unequal than the OECD average

Such statistics and data begins to paint quite a negative picture about inequality and particularly one that is very close to home. As always in the Consequences Blog there is a key underpinning current of the need to better understand the opposing tensions and no-one does this better than Hans Rosling a Swedish physician, academic, statistician and public speaker.

In the BBC clip – The Joy of Stats inequalities are revealed in the form of the world’s past, present and future development. Data across life expectancy and income wealth are used to describe the story of change within a description that included Hans Rosling’s lifetime (unfortunately passed away early 2017). Hans creatively describes whilst many people may live in ‘the middle’ there is a huge inequality between those living in the wealthy countries and those living in the not so wealthy countries. Rosling argued strongly that everyone could make it to the healthy wealthy corner but it required change – by all.

Rosling’s biggest argument was that the boundaries between the ‘developed’ and developing’ countries are diminishing and therefore actions had to be different and more inclusive. I would agree and support this view with the likes of the global goals and shared aspirational targets such as target 10 – reducing inequalities should and must be everybody’s’ interest.

In this I love the quote from Hans:

But in order to save the planet, we need to look at our bad habits, reduce our wastefulness and allow the rest of the world to reach our living standards. In other words, the wealthiest people in the population should make sacrifices to help the poorest and reduce gaps.

It is not like we do not know how to shift living standards. I hasten to add it is something that is discussed at all levels. For example at the micro level what a household could do to assist their neighbour and/or at a macro level with Economic forums such as Davos. Unfortunately there has been much debate and particularly at the macro level, that there is quite a lot of hypocrisy around the topic of inequality. Although there is much debate around the shift of economic models (see Consequences Blog #20) with the new paradigm being based on an ecological system the discourse around a single focus on economics is leading to a dead end. I make it very clear that ‘myself and my studies’ claim no insights into economics but surely common sense prevails if organisations like International Monetary Forum (IMF) fail to address topics such as inequality.

So what can you, your family, your community, your organization, your country do about reducing or closing the gap on inequality – in fact quite a lot. Whenever I mention the phrase close the gap and particularly in Australia the immediate thought is the gap between indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians across priority areas of health, education and employment. Although there is much literature on the need for this situation to have a radical overhaul I embrace the words of Hans Rosling, In this I suggest that the first step is considering the living standards to be for all and what will those who have got acceptable living standards go without for those that don’t have. Thinking in a co-creating future approach rather than a re-active problem-solving stance is key to being successful in the new paradigm.

In some way there is a return to the local in these global challenges and discussions. Keeping the phrase bigger is better for the rich as a reminder why local is more important is a great place to start. My research considered the influences of local capability within global footprints and how actions that were top-down held no carriage in this brave new world.

We can consider this in all our decisions by considering what impact will this decision have on the end user or more importantly are the end users engaged or involved in the decisions being made.

Of course meeting global goal 10 and reducing inequalities is much more than that but keeping locally focused is a great place to start.

References

United Nations Sustainability Development Goals – Global Goals – Target 10

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg10

Gini coefficient https://www.investopedia.com/

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