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Record rise in inequality gap

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FT ONLINE

In a record inequality gap, the top five percent of Bangladesh’s income earners have taken home 121 times more than the bottom five percent of the population in 2016, up from 31.5 times in 2010.

This means, they have almost quadrupled their share of the total national income in the last five years, an unprecedented income rise in any country, according to a study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

During the same period, the asset inequality between the top and the bottom five percent has more than doubled, said the think-tank in a report titled “Quest for Inclusive Transformation of Bangladesh; Who Not to Be Left Behind”.

The report, based on the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) data, will be released at the citizen’s conference on SDGs today.

People at the top, who had assets 1,176 times that of the bottom in 2010, now have assets 2,500 times higher, the report said.

“This is unprecedented,” CPD Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya, who led a seven-member team for the research, said to media.

The study sought to identify those left out of the mainstream economic development so that policymakers can address the issues of vulnerable individuals and communities to achieve the global development targets — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN — by 2030.

Apart from income and asset inequalities, the research found 97 percent of the population suffer from one or the other form of vulnerabilities.

Researchers measured the vulnerability of people by developing a “Vulnerability Index” based on 10 criteria — income, gender, geographic location, life cycle, disability, education and skills, health, occupation, religion and ethnicity, as well as shock-induced vulnerability.

Debapriya said there was an underbelly of the decent growth performance of Bangladesh. “The observed economic growth has been regrettably coupled with growing number of disadvantaged and marginalised people.”

The vulnerabilities of these people emanate from economic status, life cycle, location, gender, physical challenges and social stigma, he said.

The report reveals that gender gap persists though it has been decreasing in certain cases.

Individuals with no or little education find less opportunity for decent work while unemployment is higher among relatively higher-educated individuals.

“The rural population continues to be left behind,” said the report, adding that Barisal is the worst-performing division

The study found that regions such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts are prone to vulnerability. The average wealth of households in the CHT is much lower compared to the rural, urban and national averages.

“Wealth ownership and literacy rate is abysmal in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area,” it said, adding that religious and ethnic minorities are also lagging behind.

“While vulnerability is most often associated with poverty, it can also arise in situations where people are isolated, insecure and defenceless and that vulnerable groups differ in their exposure to risks based on factors such as their age, gender or social group,” said the report.

For example, a wide infrastructure gap appears to be especially acute for Adivasi, and the Char and Haor communities owing to their remote geographical locations.

The study found that women and children are most frequently addressed by policies but sanitation, infrastructure, sustainability and sustainable use of water are not.

The report suggested enactment and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and called for a large-scale social movement so that no one is left behind.

-SAM

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