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The world is becoming less equitable. Whilst inequalities between states are diminishing at the global level, they are increasing within specific regions and countries. The expected future economic growth in Europe, North America and China will almost exclusively benefit the more affluent sectors of these societies. More and more families are facing poverty, social exclusion and material deprivation. This is in particular true of rural areas that are in danger of being completely cut off from the rapid developments in urban centres. The interactions between different aspects of inequality lead to a significant potential for social conflict. This finds expression in political radicalisation, terrorist actions and politically motivated violence. The absolute number of people living in extreme poverty has been declining. But the gap between the wealthiest and poorest of the population is widening. Different types of inequalities in society are persistent and widening despite progress to address them. Inequalities in education, the labour market and health are widening, and gender and territorial inequalities persist despite the fact that significant progress has been made to address them. An uneven distribution of wealth, income and the adverse effects of climate change around the world is growing. Crucial for a prosperous society, access to quality education, employment and health are still being shaped by gender, age, ethnicity, social class, migration status and location. Inequality is holding economic growth back and can threaten democracy and social cohesion if corporations and the wealthy continue to have excessive influence on setting the 'rules of the game' (of life). More than ever before there is a growing consensus that inequality is an urgent issue that should be at the top of policymakers' agenda. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many of the existing inequalities. Unchecked capitalism, dizzying technological change, grossly disproportionate executive pay, and intensive financial globalization have all been blamed for rising levels of inequality. One key underlying factor has been the increased prevalence since the 1970s of neoliberalism and the financialization of everything - resulting in a de-democratization of economic policy-making. Yet, inequality is not solely about income; inequalities in terms of health, age, (dis)ability, gender, technology access, infrastructure, and geographical location have all been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitigating inequality will now demand a mix of bottom-up and top-down changes that recognize the social and economic systems aggravating inequality are a matter of choice.

Widening inequalities

KEY TRENDS

Widening inequalities