Addressing social inequality
Sir: Social inequality is the distribution of people into groups based on their income, occupation, wealth and social status. Social inequality exists in every society. Inequality is not only determined by quantitative yardsticks like income and wealth, but also by qualitative yardsticks like attitudes and beliefs. Inequality implies uneven access to education, health care, housing, employment and so on.
There are numerous factors that predispose individuals to social inequality. The individuals starting point in life is key. The situation each and everyone of us is born into varies. Those who are born into very rich and wealthy families usually get a good head-start in life. Children from wealthy backgrounds usually receive the best medical care when they are sick, acquire the best education irrespective of the cost, live in the most comfortable parts of the city and so on. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive poor medical services when they are sick, acquire deficient education and live in demeaning accommodations. The implication is that the young child from the disadvantaged background may develop a social inferiority complex that may hunt him for his entire lifetime and may even prevent him from attaining certain heights in life. This inequality may even be passed on to generations.
Economic liberalisation and capitalism also perpetuates inequality. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. The value and wages for unskilled labour are diminishing while the value and wages for skilled labour are going in the opposite direction. At face value, capitalism propagates freedom and equality under the law. The rich and poor are subjected to the same legal rules of trading. However, considering the financial gap between the rich and the poor, capitalism while deceptively propagating equality under the law is actually a powerful driver of social inequality.
Social inequality has always been with mankind. There is, therefore, no need crying over spilt milk. What matters to every progressive minded individual is the way forward. Nigeria must create jobs by investing in infrastructure. Massive investment in mass housing programmes is long overdue. Nigeria’s 17-23 million housing deficit must be addressed. Solving this challenge will not only make decent houses available and affordable but will create jobs in the process. Nigeria must also invest massively in renewable energy since it has been established that this form of energy creates a lot of jobs along its numerous value chains. Another low hanging fruit to address social inequality will be to improve job quality and strengthen families by raising the minimum wage. The minimum wage of N18,000 which cannot buy even a bag of rice is not acceptable.
This must be scaled up if we truly want to reduce social inequality. Nigeria must also invest in human capital by expanding access to high-quality and affordable healthcare and education. People living with disabilities must have a fair shot at healthcare, education, employment and economic security. The criminal justice system must be reformed so that innocent but disadvantaged Nigerians will not languish in prison forever in the name of awaiting trial. Tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy must be closed. The national monetary and fiscal policies must align to aggressively create full employment for millions of Nigerians. All these measures to address inequality should not be adopted in isolation but as a whole so that the effect will be more pronounced.
Martins Eke,Abuja, FCT
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