International Cooperation and Development

Reducing inequality

The 10th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG10) aims to reduce, by 2030, inequalities based on income, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity, religion and opportunity. Reducing these social and economic inequalities within and among countries is not only key to ensuring that no one is left behind, it is also a necessary condition for sustainable poverty reduction and social cohesion.

Inequality is a major obstacle to sustainable economic growth. Unlike poverty — a characteristic that can be defined at the individual level — inequality is a relational concept that refers to differences between individuals or groups and covers various dimensions:

  • Economic inequality mainly refers to differences in economic outcomes, such as in income, consumption or wealth.
  • Social inequality refers to differences in social outcomes (such as in education or employment), or to differences in social status or position. Social and economic inequality are strongly connected.
  • The concept of political inequality refers to unequal influence over decisions made by political bodies, and the unequal outcomes of those decisions. It is closely related to differences in the distribution of political resources, which can lead to the exclusion of particular groups from participating in political processes.
  • Environmental inequality is often used to indicate an unequal distribution of environmental risks and hazards (e.g. air or water pollution) and unequitable access to natural resources and other ecosystem services (e.g. land, parks and freshwater) between different social groups. Environmental inequality is also closely connected to social and economic inequality.

All these forms of inequality can be measured both within and between groups, within and among countries:

  • Vertical inequality refers to differences between individuals (or households) within a particular country or region, or in the world as a whole.
  • Horizontal inequality refers to differences between culturally defined groups of people within a society, i.e. between the rural and urban population, or between different ethnic groups.

Evidence shows that horizontal inequality such as inequality between groups, including gender inequality, increases the risk of violent conflict while violence and conflict can further worsen inequality. It is a major threat to democracy, social cohesion, and to peaceful and resilient societies.

In many parts of the world, inequality remains a major concern. Many of the countries with the highest levels of income inequality (economic inequality) are in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. While only 1% of the world’s population controls more than 50% of its wealth, 800 million people in the world live in extreme poverty. Over 75% of people in the developing world live in countries where income is more unequally distributed than in the 1990s. Economic inequality also has negative impacts on other types of inequality and health outcomes, such as life expectancy or nutrition status. In terms of social inequality, women in rural areas are still up to 3 times more likely to die while giving birth than women living in urban centres. Children born into poverty are almost twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as those from wealthier families.

Our approach

To reduce inequality, we must understand its causes and consequences, which can be complex and deeply rooted in social, economic, political and environmental systems and resources. The EU’s approach is therefore multifold. We support actions to:

  • empower women and create opportunities for youth and disadvantaged communities
  • increase economic inclusion and create decent work and higher incomes
  • enhance social services and ensure access to social protection
  • facilitate safe migration and mobility and tackle irregular migration
  • foster pro-poor fiscal policies and develop fair and transparent tax systems
  • encourage domestic resource mobilisation and stimulate public and private sector development

Our action

The Research facility on inequalities is an initiative of the European Commission, implemented by the French development agency AFD (Agence française de développement). It seeks to enhance knowledge and understanding of economic and social inequalities to better respond to this complex development challenge.

The EU has participated in the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, a global initiative to accelerate financial inclusion in partner countries.

In terms of supporting the rights of persons with disabilities, the EU-funded Bridging the Gap project carries out actions to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities at both the international and country level.

The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, launched in 2015, has allowed the EU and its member countries to work with African partners faster and with more flexibility to foster long-term stability. It addresses the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and irregular migration across 3 regions of Africa: the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and the North of Africa.

Our priorities

The reduction of inequality is a clear EU priority: both internally, as enshrined in EU treaties and reflected in the European Pillar of Social Rights, and externally, as the European Consensus on development makes it a priority of EU development cooperation policy to eradicate poverty, tackle discrimination and inequality, and make sure no one is left behind.

Reducing inequality is also rooted in EU’s commitments to promote and protect human rights, as the principles of non-discrimination and equality are complementing principles of international human rights law.

Interlinkage with other SDGs

Reducing inequality resonates throughout other SDGs; such as ending poverty and hunger (SDG1 and SDG2), good health and wellbeing (SDG3), quality education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), clean water and sanitation (SDG6), affordable and clean energy (SDG7), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), resilient infrastructures and inclusive industrialisation (SDG9) as well as more inclusive cities (SDG11) and sustainable ecosystems (SDG15).

Our impact