Inequality impedes harmonious growth

Shahiduzzaman Khan | Published: February 13, 2019 20:32:12

Despite rise in gross domestic product (GDP) growth and reported decrease in poverty in Bangladesh over the last few decades, inequality is also rising side by side. Although there has been some improvement in the country's employment generation, the jobs created are far short of the country's demand.

There are reasons to believe that inequality widened as the bigger portion of income went to the richer groups of people while the poor got a minor share. Lack of good governance, corruption, slow growth in employment and real wage contributed to the widening income gap.

According to a World Bank projection, some 2.1 million people are entering the country's labour force each year. The trend is expected to continue up to 2023. Official statistics say a total of 1.23 million jobs were created in the country last year. This implies that even if 1.3 million jobs are created each year, about 0.8 million unemployed people will join the already significant number of the jobless in the country each year.

Situation in the country's healthcare service is also rather dismal. Despite quantitative progress in health indicators, the quality of both public and private medicare service is unsatisfactory. Resource constraint, lack of professionalism, poor management and inadequate policy initiatives are blamed as major reasons for the poor quality of healthcare.

The rise in per capita public expenditure on health remains highly insignificant and has increased by merely Tk 205 in between fiscal year (FY) 2009 and FY 2018. In Bangladesh, 71.8 per cent of health expenditure was financed by out-of-pocket spending in 2015, which was the highest in South Asian context.

Income share of the richest five per cent of Bangladeshi people has been on the rise over the last three decades while that of the poorest is decreasing. A recent research reveals that while the richest five per cent Bangladeshis shared 18.85 per cent of the total income during 1991-92, their share rose to 27.89 per cent in 2015-16.

But the income share held by the poorest five per cent of the households fell from 1.03 per cent to 0.23 per cent during the same period. In 2010, the richest five per cent of the households was 32 times richer than the poorest five per cent. This difference magnified astronomically in 2015 when the richest five per cent was 121 times richer than the poorest five per cent.

Income inequality in both rural and urban areas, in fact, widened more in recent times. Consumption inequality, however, remained almost stable during the last five years, says a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey. The country made some achievements in some areas of poverty reduction in those years. But, for the present, the pace of poverty reduction slowed down.

What is needed of the government at this stage is that it has to ensure the quality of public investment. Without it, many will be left out of the benefits of economic growth. The government needs to give sharp focus on three major areas -- education, healthcare and social protection. In such sectors, it must make public spending more efficient.

There are, in fact, some problems in the quality of education and health care as well as leakages in social security. The government needs to address such pressing issues in order to ensure quality, equity, equality and inclusiveness in the country's growth.

There are, however, two major concerns about the country's economy. One is that higher growth could not generate adequate employment. And the other is that benefits of growth are unequally distributed. To ensure inclusive growth, the government should focus on quality education, which will enhance the efficiency of the job seekers.

What is surprising is that Bangladesh topped the list of countries that saw the quickest growth in the number of ultra-wealthy people between 2012 and 2017. But the country has failed to make significant headway in bringing down the number of ultra poor. Such a contradiction is obviously obstructing the harmonious growth of the country. 


Share if you like