At least eight critical obstacles are keeping the region from achieving inclusive social development, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) revealed in a new study.
The document, “Critical obstacles to inclusive social development in Latin America and the Caribbean: Background for a regional agenda”, was officially unveiled by ECLAC’s Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena during the Third Meeting of the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held October 1-3 in Mexico City.
Organised by ECLAC, the Government of Mexico, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the event brought together Social Development ministers and senior authorities from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss the approval of a proposed regional agenda for inclusive social development.
The eight critical obstacles and emerging challenges to inclusive social development identified by ECLAC are:
1) the persistence of poverty and vulnerability to poverty;
2) unfair and inefficient structural inequalities and the culture of privilege;
3) disparities in the development of human capacities — education, health and nutrition — and access to basic services;
4) decent work deficits and uncertainties associated with technological transformations in the world of work;
5) still partial and unequal access to social protection;
6) a social institutional framework that is still under construction;
7) an insufficient level of social investment; and
8) emerging obstacles: various forms of violence; increasing exposure to disasters and the effects of climate change; demographic, epidemiological and nutritional transitions; migration; and technological changes and the new capacities they require.
“The current situation in the region makes advancing the commitment to a regional agenda for inclusive social development indispensable,” Alicia Bárcena explained.
An agenda of this kind must prioritise addressing the obstacles that limit much of the population’s access to the effective enjoyment of their rights and to well-being as means for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region, the senior official emphasised.
According to ECLAC’s most recent data, in 2017 there were 184 million people in situations of poverty in Latin America, equivalent to 30.2 per cent of the population, of whom 62 million (10.2 per cent of the population) found themselves in situations of extreme poverty.
Upon analysing inequality in income distribution in the region, a reduction in the Gini index (from 0.534 to 0.466) can be seen between 2002 and 2017, although the pace of that decline slowed starting in 2014. Despite this progress, Latin America and the Caribbean continues to be the most unequal region in the world, and the inequalities associated with socio-economic stratum are compounded by inequalities related to gender, ethnicity, race, geographical territory, and the different stages in people’s life cycles, forming together “the axes that structure social inequality in the region”, ECLAC said.
With regard to the deficit of decent work, ECLAC notes that, in 2016, 41.7 per cent of people employed in Latin America received an income below the national minimum wage, and the percentage was especially high among young women (60.3 per cent). In a similar vein, in 2017 the poverty rate among people employed in low-productivity jobs (30.4 per cent) was triple the rate of those employed in high-productivity jobs (11.3 per cent).
The adequate financing of social policies is a key factor for achieving inclusive social development, the study indicates. Although the amount of national governments’ average social spending per capita practically doubled between 2002 and 2016, reaching US$894 dollars per person, there were very big differences between subregions and countries.
While in South America this figure averaged US$1,175 dollars per capita, it was only US$579 dollars in Central American countries Mexico and the Dominican Republic. As a point of comparison, the average social spending of European Union countries in 2016 represented 28.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), while in Latin America the figure was 11.2 per cent of GDP.
Among the emerging obstacles identified by ECLAC, the various forms of violence stand out.
“Latin America and the Caribbean is the most violent region in the world, which is unexpected given its level of economic, political and social development,” the document states. The murder rate in the region is five times greater than the global average (22.1 homicides and 4.4 homicides for every 100,000 people, respectively). But the high rates of violence correspond not only to murders but also to other expressions of violence, such as assaults and episodes of sexual violence and gender-based violence, which are further associated with other phenomena such as racism and homophobia.
Meanwhile, natural disasters and “technological” disasters (mainly stemming from industrial and transportation-related causes) have increased steadily over the last 60 years. While natural disasters have expanded 4.4 times over in recent decades, technological ones have increased by 16.1 times, ECLAC reported.
This makes it ever more essential to design strategies both to reduce the population’s exposure to these events and to directly address them, strengthening social protection systems capable of reducing people’s vulnerability by guaranteeing basic income levels and access to social services including health, education and housing, among others. In many cases, “the disasters are the cause and consequence of poverty and vulnerability,” the organisation concluded.