Business Times

Horizontal Inequality: does group inequality matter?

Forgotten issues in the debates on poverty
By Dileni Gunewardena

Countries in Asia, notably, India and China, that grew rapidly in the last decade also experienced rising inequality. The same was true of Sri Lanka, which however, grew more slowly. Growing economies tend to generate inequality as they move from being traditional, homogeneous agricultural rural economies to being modern, heterogeneous, industrial, urban economies. As people move into disparate occupations, so does their remuneration differ—giving rise to higher inequality.

This view of inequality has been recently termed vertical inequality to distinguish it from horizontal inequality, a term introduced by Frances Stewart at Oxford University in 2002, which is a more pernicious type of inequality whose main feature is that it exists between (culturally defined) groups.
Inequality between groups is pernicious because individual identity flows in part from group membership; group-based disparities solely due to intrinsic characteristics such as caste, race or gender would be held to be abominable. Among other things, groups may have low or no mobility, i.e. it is not possible—or very difficult—to change groups; if you are discriminated against because you are a woman or belong to a particular caste or ethnicity, it would be impossible in the first case, and very difficult in the latter cases to change identity in order to avoid discrimination.

Persistent group inequality can and has led to social instability. On the other hand, as both Stewart, and Ravi Kanbur, an economist based at Cornell University, have argued, when horizontal inequality is prevalent, policy actions to address group inequalities may be more effective than policy actions that address inequalities at the individual level.

So, horizontal inequality matters, and this is one of the themes that wng historically excluded groups, a fourth paper on migration as a strategy for moving out of poverty in the Estate sector, and a fifth and last paper that examines the links between group inequalities and localised conflict and its influences on development interventions.One of the papers on gender uses a case study from the village of West Mudunkotuwa in Ratnapura district in Sri Lanka to measure and evaluate medium term impacts on gendered horizontal inequality of a livelihoods project.

The authors, Maneka Savithri Jayasinghe and R. W. D. Lakshman argue that in the context of promoting livelihoods, ignoring gender differences in access to and control of both physical and financial resources has resulted in creating greater disparity in the improvement of social and economic well-being across men and women.

The second paper on gender by Nilakshi de Silva and K.I.H. Sanjeewanie of CEPA presents results from a study that uses survey modules developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to gather information on dimensions of poverty that are typically “missing” in large scale quantitative surveys.

This study was done in Badulla district and analyzes the experience of different groups, focusing on gender, employment quality and psychological well-being.

The multiple dimensions of poverty and social exclusion is the focus of the paper by Saibal Kar which is based on a study which gathers information on a large number of dimensions of deprivation for both historically excluded and non-excluded groups in 50 villages in a district in West Bengal, India.
The plantation community in Sri Lanka could well be described as a historically excluded group, given the enclave nature of their existence.

However, in recent times, external factors have led to the disintegration of the enclave, and more and more members of the plantation community are migrating—both locally and overseas.
A paper by R.M.K.M. Lakmini and Jeevika Weerahewa examines the impact of remittances on the expenditure behaviour of migrant households.

The second in-house presentation in this session which looks at the group inequalities and localised conflicts, comes closest to the classical Stewartian definition of horizontal inequalities. Azra Abdul Cader presents findings from a study done in collaboration with the Oxford University Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) in the Eastern and North Western parts of Sri Lanka which highlight the interconnections between group -based inequalities, potential for conflict and development programming.

The study which uses Q-squared (quantitative and qualitative) methodology examines how programme design principles and practical implementation of three programmes particularly interact with local contextual factors, specifically inequality between culturally defined groups.

In the face of these group-based inequalities, what types of interventions would be most successful? What should governments pay heed to? That is what a participant at the conference would find out. (Written by a CEPA staff member on the 10th anniversary of the agency).

Ageing gracefully... some challenges?

Sri Lanka’s latest household income and expenditure survey for 2009/2010 shows that poverty in Sri Lanka has declined significantly during the past decade. However, while recent social and economic development in the country has addressed some challenges in the battle against poverty, such development also creates new challenges, one of which arises from the ageing of Sri Lanka’s population.

According to recent population projections (Indrajit de Silva,2007), the share of those over 60 years will rise to 16% by 2020. In addition, Sri Lanka’s population is expected to start declining by 2030, so that by 2050, the population over 60 years will nearly double to 29%. These increasing numbers of the elderly will become economically vulnerable, with family sizes shrinking and a smaller share of economically active younger people available to look after the needs of the elderly in our society over time.

Ageing related poverty arises from society being unable to bear the costs of supporting basic physical needs of the elderly - food, clothing, shelter, health, transport, as well as emotional and mental support through companionship and recreation. Hence, the threat of many more elderly sliding into poverty in Sri Lanka over the next few decades is very real.

Ageing-related poverty could result in new burdens on Sri Lanka’s society due to outcomes such as:

  • Increasing demand for elderly health care to meet sickness resulting from
  • Poor nutrition – due to lack of income or means to prepare meals.
  • Poor housing conditions – resulting in respiratory infections due to damp or accidents due to physical hazards
  • Poor medication – due to inability to meet costs of required medicines
  • Increasing demand for cost-effective housing, meals, transport and recreation for the elderly which may need to be subsidised by the state through taxes.
  • Increasing demand for companionship and emotional caring of elderly with no family support, which may required training and employment of social workers by the state
    Against this background, policy makers need to think about ageing-related poverty issues in Sri Lanka and prepare for the future. Some questions that come to mind are:
  • What preventive long-term measures can be taken at national policy level to reduce the burden of ageing-related poverty on society as a whole?
  • What can communities do to minimise ageing related poverty?
  • What can private initiative do to insure against ageing-related poverty?
  • What can research organisations do for advocacy on related issues?
  • How do other countries with a similar ageing structure deal with these issues?
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