July 27, 2010 -- Populations in Latin America and the Caribbean have the world’s highest levels of differences in wealth and income, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in a new report that calls for social policies which tackle the problem of inequality in the region.

“This inequality is persistent, self-perpetuating in areas where social mobility is low and it poses an obstacle to progress in human development,” UNDP said in its first Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, entitled Acting On The Future: Breaking The Intergenerational Cycle Of Inequality.

Ten of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in the region, according to the report, which was released on Friday. The report also finds that it is possible to reduce inequality through the implementation of public policies that lift the region out of the inequality trap.

The policies must have an impact on people, address the set of constraints that perpetuate poverty and inequality, and empower people to feel they are in charge of their development destinies, according to the report.

“This report reaffirms the critical importance of the fight against poverty, while indicating that it is necessary to go further,” said UNDP Regional Director Heraldo Muñoz. “Inequality is inherently an impediment to progress in the area of human development, and efforts to reduce inequality must be explicitly mainstreamed in the public agenda,” he said.

For UNDP “equality is instrumental in ensuring meaningful liberties; that is to say, in terms of helping all people to share in meaningful life options so that they can make autonomous choices,” he added.

Women, indigenous populations and those of African descent are the groups hardest hit by inequality. Women in the region are paid less than men for the same work, they have a greater presence in the informal economy and they face a double workload, the UNDP report pointed out. Compared to those of European descent, twice as many members of indigenous and African descended populations, on average, live on $1 per day.

“Inequality is a source of social vulnerability. For that reason, as the report shows, it’s critical to advance knowledge of the factors explaining inequality in human development in Latin America and the Caribbean and its persistence from one generation to the next,” said Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP’s Associate Administrator.

“That would allow the proposal of a strong framework for development of targeted policies that drive a more equality-based development,” she added.

According to the report, the most common public policies in the region have focused on specific aspects of combating poverty without considering the deep-seated nature of deprivation and its systemic relationship to inequality. It also shows that income and education levels are some of the factors responsible for continuing inequality in human development.

There are also structural causes of political and social origin that reflect historical factors of social inequality, including lack of equal opportunity and lack of empowerment that result in marginalization, oppression, and domination.

“The success of government action depends on the deployment of information like that offered in the report. Continuity of inequality across generations presents us with a critical factor in human development, one that demands our special attention,” said the President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, who presided over the launch of the report in San José with Ms. Grynspan and Mr. Muñoz.

“This report highlights that inequality in itself is a concern. We must therefore make it an issue and a policy matter in the development agenda of the region and its countries. It is our obligation that the fruits of development contribute to the general well-being and not only to that of a few,” the President added.