COVID-19, Inequalities and Building Back Better - Policy Brief by the HLCP Inequalities Task Team

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The United Nations Secretary-General has described inequality as the defining challenge of our era — one that the COVID-19 crisis has thrown into even greater relief. Moreover, the pandemic threatens to derail progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19’s immediate health impacts, coupled with its longer-term social and economic consequences, have cost more than a million lives, destroyed countless livelihoods, curtailed young people’s education, increased violence against women and threatened food security. The pandemic is expected to reverse decades of progress on poverty reduction and worsen inequalities.

Whether a consequence of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic or other status, inequalities are pervasive — both within and between countries. These inequalities often coexist, overlapping and interacting in ways that create severe and compounded forms of deprivation and disadvantage. Inequalities hold back social and economic prosperity, exacerbate environmental degradation, distort democratic governance systems, fuel conflict and are a barrier to the realization of fundamental human rights. Despite progress in some countries, income and wealth are increasingly concentrated at the top. During the period 2012 to 2017, in all countries with comparable data, the poorest 40 per cent of the population received less than 25 per cent of the overall income, while the richest 10 per cent received at least 20 per cent of total income.

Rising inequalities are not inevitable. Policies and institutions matter, at national and global levels. Yet rising inequalities are not inevitable. Inequality levels and trends differ among countries that are at similar levels of development and that are equally exposed to global trade, technological innovation and even the effects of climate change. Policies and institutions matter, at national and global levels. In adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, countries committed to leave no one behind, reduce inequalities and eliminate discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda includes a specific goal (SDG 10) to reduce inequality within and between countries, as well as Goal 5, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The UN Development System has put combating inequalities and discrimination at the heart of its support for 2030 Agenda imple- mentation, as outlined in the Chief Executive Board’s Shared UN System Framework for Action on Equality and Non-Discrimination.