A study conducted by the UN expects to see a fall in the human development index for the first time since the concept was invented in 1990.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is warning the Covid-19 pandemic could set progress made in human development back by several decades.
In a report, the UNDP said that pre-existing inequality could be exacerbated by the coronavirus, with the burden falling overwhelmingly on the most vulnerable.
“The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. “COVID-19 – with its triple hit to health, education, and income – may change this trend."
Uniquely, the current pandemic is likely to impact both developed and developing countries alike resulting in a loss of income placing greater stress on health services around the world.
Focused on education, the report drew attention to education, one of the key markers for people climbing out of poverty and attaining better health outcomes.
The report warned that the rate of teaching efficiency for children of primary school age learning outside of schools, is at levels that were last seen in the mid-1980s.
While many children in the developed world have access to the internet and have benefited from digital tools put in place to assist with their continued distance learning, in less developed countries, the challenges have included ensuring a continuity of education.
A study carried out in 2014 looking at how education had been impacted following a locust plague in Mali, between 1987-1989, to some extent teaches us a little about what to expect from the post-coronavirus fallout.
The study found that the educational enrollment of girls was impacted negatively and the plague resulted in the widening rural-urban divide.
Another study looking at a teachers' strike action in Belgium in the 90s, found that a two-month hiatus from school resulted in a greater number of students repeating the year or even being relegated to a lower level of education once they restarted.
The UNDP estimated in their analysis that, “86 percent of children in primary education are now effectively out-of-school in countries with low human development—compared with just 20 percent in countries with very high human development.”
Unlike in previous decades where physical presence within actual school buildings was essential in being educated, the UNDP believes that gaps in educational attainment can be minimised.
“With more equitable Internet access, - where countries close the gap with leaders in their development group, something feasible – the current gaps in education could close,” the UNDP report added.
Coronavirus vs inequality
Around the world, both developmental organisations and academics are looking increasingly at the long term impact the coronavirus is having, and what this will consequently mean for government actions.
Using past pandemics as a guide, the UK-based Centre for Economic Policy Research has used inequality models to find that “this pandemic could end up exerting a significant adverse impact on inequality.”
In their initial paper, they found the cumulative impact of the current pandemic will be worse than those of previous decades, but crucially that while early government action to protect the economy and people were important, their results indicated “that in the absence of deliberate and strenuous attempts to protect the most vulnerable segments of society, this pandemic could end up exerting a significant adverse impact on inequality.”
In the aftermath of the great recession of 2007-2009, the recovery was, for many countries, slow and painful.
Communities of colour in developed countries like the US, have gone into the current crisis without fully recovering from the previous recession.
Young people, in particular, born between 1984-1994, faced the “greatest decline in employment” amongst all age groups that endured the most recent of our financial recessions.
Government rescue packages around the world have seen large companies, some whose need for fiscal aid has proved questionable, receiving large amounts of tax-payer funds.
Economic studies have shown there may be more efficient ways to spend bailout money, one being the expansion of social safety net programmes that provide food assistance and health care.
In Turkey, for instance, the last 20 years has seen a gradual expansion of social assistance initiatives, which, combined with greater levels of homeownership, has resulted in the amelioration of poverty levels.
With the International Labour Organisation predicting that half of all working people could lose their jobs over the coming months, the UNDP has stressed the world is “only at the beginning of the virus’s economic and social implications.”