Growing inequality threatens Ja’s vulnerable, warns UN
Despite a nominal increase in Jamaica’s ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI) over the previous year, there are growing concerns that fast-rising inequality in the northern Caribbean island is placing vulnerable income groups at greater risk, a report issued yesterday by the United Nations Development Programme has indicated.
Jamaica ranks 96th out of 189 nations in the 2018 HDI, a metric assessing three dimensions of human development – life expectancy, access to knowledge, and standard of living. That score is one better than last year, but the island is below the average for countries in the high human development group, as well as countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Jamaica remains at the back of the class behind 10 Caribbean countries, with Barbados (56), The Bahamas (60), Trinidad and Tobago (63), and Cuba (72) the regional leaders. Only four Caribbean countries – Dominica, Belize, Guyana and Haiti – rank behind Jamaica.
UNDP Programmes Specialist Richard Kelly said yesterday that between 1990 and 2018, Jamaica’s HDI value increased from 0.641 to 0.726, an increase of 13.2 per cent. But he emphasised that analysts should be aware that “the numbers are valuable for planning purposes, but they do not tell the entire story”.
“That is why UNDP is maturing its approach to development measurement and assessment,” said Kelly in the opening remarks on behalf of UNDP Resident Representative Denise E. Antonio at the launch of the Human Development Report at the UNDP’s Lady Musgrave Road, St Andrew, offices yesterday.
Head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Institute at The University of the West Indies Open Campus, Danny Roberts, said the report reflects the disparities and contradictions in Jamaica’s development process.
“Despite the country’s positive economic indicators over the last three years, we still lag at 96 out of 189 countries, behind some of our CARICOM partners ... when we examine overall human development in the areas of health, education, dignity and respect for human rights,” Roberts said.
TABS ON DISPARITIES
In 2010, the inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) was introduced. It focuses on disparities in income, the distribution of wealth, access to services, education, technology, climate change, among other areas.
“Jamaica’s HDI for 2018 is 0.726. However, when the value is discounted for inequality, the HDI falls to 0.604, a loss of 16.7 per cent due to inequality in the distribution of the HDI dimension indices,” the country summary read.
The concern about inequality is not restricted to Jamaica but echoes a sentiment seen in many countries regionally and across the globe. For example, though Barbados’ HDI for 2018 is 0.813, that value falls to 0.675 after being discounted for inequality.
When compared to several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, losses caused by inequality were generally lower in Jamaica.
“We are classified as high human development based on our rank, but when you adjust it, due to inequality, we are in the middle human development category,” Kelly explained.
“The report is a time for introspection and reflection in the country – to look at the numbers and go beyond them ... . Overall, the country has a lot of work to do to reduce inequality and ensuring that everybody benefits from development gains,” said the UNDP programmes specialist.
The UNDP noted in a press release that “the next generation of inequalities is manifesting around issues of technology, education and the climate crisis”.
Roberts noted that in a technologically driven world, where the knowledge-based worker is critical to sustained development and the future of work, the quality of education, particularly with Internet access at the primary and secondary levels, needed to be improved.
Roberts, who is also a senior lecturer at the Open Campus Consortium for Social Development and Research, called for a more detailed and analytical study of the report, and a revaluation of some of the policy objectives set out in the Vision 2030 agenda.
Between 1990 and 2018:
• Life expectancy at birth increased by 1.2 years;
• Mean years of schooling increased by 3.9 years while expected years of schooling increased by 1.9 years;
• Jamaica’s Gross National Income per capita increased by about 20.2 per cent.