A guest post from Alex Cobham, Head of Research at Save the Children UK.
Children suffer twice the inequality of income as the general population, and this has grown by a third since the 1990s. As the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 international development framework met in London earlier this month, Save the Children’s new report, Born Equal, presented this new evidence and called for inequality to be at the centre of the new framework.
Born Equal alsoincludes a synthesis of eight country case studies (Brazil, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and the UK) focusing on horizontal (group) inequality, which draws out some important dimensions of inequality – not least, in terms of education.
I’ve written on Uncounted about the reasons why inequality is so important for post-2015, and for Save the Children, but will summarise briefly here. First and foremost, it is because inequality undermines children’s well-being, with permanent effects across their entire lifespan. In addition, we know that inequality is an obstacle to development in general – reducing economic growth and fuelling conflict. Finally, of course, inequality has grown sharply – in seven out of our eight case study countries, for example – and so has become the major obstacle to international development. Without challenging these deeply damaging trends in the post-2015 framework, there is little hope of making the scale of development progress that we are aiming for.
Education for children is an especially important area of inequalities. In summarising the literature, we highlight in particular the findings on the impact of inequality on children’s development. The evidence from the major Young Lives study is that progress is “highly dependent” on perceptions of relative social status, and of personal and economic opportunities. Previous work such as that of Hoff and Pandey has shown immediate impacts of social divisions – in this case, with the visibility of caste exhibiting a major influence on children’s performance in tests.
The Young Lives studies, because of their longitudinal nature, have been able to trace additional and long-term paths of inequality. Perhaps most powerfully, the results show that nutrition not only has significant effects on intellectual capacity, but also major psychosocial effects (on self-esteem and educational aspirations). The systematic way in which the same groups (notably rural children, children from ethnolinguistic minorities and children from less educated mothers – see e.g. the graph here from the Vietnam study) are marginalised in different study countries and in different dimensions of development compounds the effects of inequality in any one.
The eight country case studies conducted for Born Equal provide a great deal of evidence on education, and indeed inequalities here (and the policy responses to them) emerged as a consistent theme. We saw consistently higher dropout rates in India for children from scheduled castes and – above all – from scheduled tribes. We set out new regression results on the relative importance of income, race, gender, rural-urban and regional location differences for the chances of children being delayed in school in Brazil.
More positively, we found evidence on the power of policy to respond – starting with universal provision but going beyond, aiming to ‘correct’ for underlying inequalities and marginalisation (for example, in Canada and Brazil). In addition, we identify a range of broader policy areas – including in labour markets, and through progressive taxation and transfers – through which inequality can, and should be targeted.
Aside from domestic policy implications, what does this mean for the post-2015 framework itself? In Born Equal, we make the recommendation that to address inequalities in outcomes (and to improve children’s economic opportunities) the post-2015 framework should include a target on reducing income inequality and other disparities in wealth within countries, under the broader goal of poverty eradication. The target and indicator could utilise the gap between the richest and poorest quintiles (the 20:20 gap) or, following recent research, the 10:40 gap between the top decile and the bottom two quintiles. Similar targets that aim to reduce the gap between the best-off and worst-off groups can be proposed in each major dimension of inequality, and for each area that the post-2015 framework covers (eg, mortality rates as well as income).
As I argued at UNESCO just before we released the report, there is an opportunity for the education sector to play a major leading role, in putting inequality at the core of post-2015. A combination of three factors support leadership from education, in setting inequality at the hear of post-2015:
- the (relatively!) strong availability of disaggregated data;
- the opportunity for political consensus (because of the social costs of inequality undermining individuals’ access to education, so that injustice and instrumental arguments align); and
- the fact of education having provided, through the original Education for All goals, the most direct and powerful inequality challenge in the Millennium Development Goals: the gender equality target (which is the exact forerunner of the broader inequality targets that Save the Children has proposed).
There’s a full post on Uncounted setting out this argument in detail, and I’m very keen to hear from education sector specialists on this. As Born Equal illustrates, Save the Children believes that inequality must be fundamentally tackled in the post-2015 framework, if the necessary scale of progress is to be possible. It would be immensely valuable to hear that argument being made strongly from the education sector.
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