n strong words, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that Inequality, an issue which “defines our time”, risked destroying the world’s economies and societies.
“COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities, and exposing the myth that everyone is in the same boat, because “while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in super yachts, while others are clinging to the drifting debris,” he said this while delivering the 2020 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, held online for the first time.
Nelson Mandela Foundation conducts the lecture series annually on the birthday of the first democratically-elected President of South Africa.
Pointing out that global risks were ignored for decades, Guterres said inadequate health systems, structural inequalities, gaps in social protection, climate crisis and environmental degradation have been laid bare. He also mentioned that the vulnerable section (older people, those living in poverty, and people with disabilities) suffered the most.
He said that income disparity was stark with 26 richest people in the world holding as much wealth as half the global population. He also mentioned that everyone suffered the consequences because high levels of inequality are associated with “economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime and poor physical and mental health.”
Pointing out that his own continent of Europe imposed colonial rule on much of the Global South for centuries, through violence and coercion, the Secretary General said that this led to huge inequalities within and between countries, including the transatlantic slave trade and the apartheid regime in South Africa. This also left a legacy of economic and social injustice, hate crimes and xenophobia, the persistence of institutionalized racism and white supremacy, Guterres said.
Stating that patriarchy was another form of inequality, he said that women everywhere were worse off than men, and violence against women was at epidemic levels.
‘Everyone must pay their fair share’ of tax
Guterres said that the expansion of trade and technological progress contributed to “an unprecedented shift in income distribution”. Low-skilled workers faced an “onslaught” from new technologies, automation, he added.
The Secretary General said that widespread tax concessions, tax evasion, tax avoidance, low corporate tax rates reduced the resources for social protection, healthcare and education services that play an important part in reducing inequality. He said that some countries had allowed wealthy and the well-connected to benefit from tax systems.
He called on the governments to tackle the “vicious cycle” of corruption, which weakened social norms and the rule of law.
New Global Deal
He also noted that climate change was likely to become more pronounced in the coming years, pushing malnutrition, malaria and other diseases, forced migration and extreme weather events, .
As part of envisaging a fair and sustainable future for all, Guterres suggested what he called a “New Social Contract” that allowed young people to live in dignity, women to have the same prospects and opportunities as men and protects the vulnerable. “New Social Contract’ also ensures that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at the international level, he added.
As part of the New Social Contract, he said that labour market policies would be based on constructive dialogue between employers and workers, and would ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Secretary-General gave a call for new social safety nets such as universal health coverage, universal basic income, and investment in public services, reverse long-standing inequalities, affirmative action programmes and other policies to address inequalities in gender, race or ethnicity.
On imparting quality education for all, he said that spending in education spending in low and middle-income countries by 2030 should be doubled to three trillion dollars a year. This would ensure that children in low- and middle-income countries would have access to quality education at all levels.
Guterres said that the governments need to transform the way children are taught and invest in digital literacy and infrastructure.