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Middle income countries are home to five of the world’s seven billion people & 73% of the world’s poorest. Leaving no one behind to reach the furthest behind first, and end poverty in all its forms. Credit: UNDP.

As prepared for delivery.

I am very pleased to address this round table and I sincerely thank our host, Chile, bringing us there together here today.

Let me begin by congratulating the countries present for their interest in pursuing multidimensional approaches to address poverty and inequalities and for their commitment to the 2030 Agenda. 

The focus could not be more pertinent: despite a backdrop of unprecedented global wealth and human development progress, rising inequalities and persistent poverty still pose critical challenges around the world.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, Member States agreed that the cost of inequalities – in human and real terms - is too high. They pledged to leave no one behind, endeavoring to reach the furthest behind first, and end poverty in all its forms. 

I take this opportunity to highlight three key priorities: 

1. The importance of pursuing multidimensional approaches to addressing poverty and inequalities.

Poverty is multidimensional by nature. People living in poverty describe poverty in broad terms, often citing multiple disadvantages – such as poor health and lack of clean water, for example, compounded by precarious livelihoods, discrimination and humiliation. 

With the adoption of the SDGs, Member States agreed that no one factor can capture the reality of poverty. And yet, single-factor money metrics – usually GNI - continue to dominate headlines and national poverty measures. To achieve the SDGs, a decisive split is needed – away from outdated, narrow categories. Development challenges do not expire by crossing an arbitrarily set income threshold.

Middle Income Countries are and can increasingly lead the charge. Mexico was one of the first to develop their own measure of multidimensional poverty in 2010. Twelve countries have followed, with half of them from Latin America, and many more in process to do the same. National multidimensional poverty measures provide a more comprehensive picture of – who - how - and to what degree - people live in poverty within their national context. UNDP is pleased to be supporting these efforts that show the way forward - towards more targeted and better framed public policies.

Looking at poverty and inequality through a multidimensional lens is not only essential in the context of the 2030 Agenda, but is also a way of challenging the very notion of Middle Income Countries as a category for assessing progress.

The MIC category confines 108 countries as diverse as Ivory Coast and Mexico.  Middle income countries are home to five of the world’s seven billion people and 73 percent of the world’s poor people; many face significant risks of development setbacks and struggle to close gaps in education, health, and other areas.  The UNDP Human Development Report estimates that inequalities have set back human development progress in medium human development countries by 26 percent.  

2. The need to better understand who and why people are left behind 

The lack of knowledge is a powerful barrier to tackling inequalities. Typically, the least is known about the poorest and most vulnerable people; a fact that itself reinforces inequalities. National SDG benchmarks can be a powerful motivator of action to close gaps – but only if and when countries know who is being left behind and why.  

The 2030 Agenda demands that inequities be made visible and actionable within and between countries – and across SDG themes. Many MICs are using single beneficiary registries to better track the impact of public policies; citizen-driven data and information to understand barriers faced by marginalized communities; as well as satellite imagery and big data sources to supplement and update official sources and information. 

Honduras’ single beneficiary registry - CENISS - is a good example. Through this system public policy interventions can be tracked by targeted populations and locations. This is the kind of tools that the 2030 Agenda is calling for. More and more countries are going in this direction.

In support of these efforts, UNDP is developing an integrated approach to the leave no one behind pledge. It is aimed at supporting countries assess to the impact of policies and resource allocation; boost their abilities to use and gather disaggregated data; and help them respond to the needs of marginalized communities.  

The UNDP office in Chile has also recently published a report - ‘Desiguales. Orígenes, cambios y desafíos de la brecha social en Chile’ – which uses the best quantitative and qualitative data available to assess the challenges that socioeconomic inequalities pose to the country. Leaving no one behind means listening to the voices of those who face the discrimination, humiliation and shame. The Report finds that “Classism” and “machismo” are perceived as the main reasons related to mistreatments. We hope that its findings -highly contextual- and methodology -easily adaptable- can inform the policy discourse in Chile and elsewhere in the region. 

3. On maintaining social gains

Poverty eradication demands a keen focus on both poverty entry and exit. 

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges we face is not to lose the significant gains made over the past decades. The number of people falling back into poverty is equivalent to two in every seven who escaped it since 1990. This shows an enormous fragility in our social and economic safety nets, and the impact of shocks on the poorest and most vulnerable. If the world is to achieve zero poverty by 2030, we need to halt the downward slide.

This calls for an increased focus on preventing people from falling into poverty, thus addressing multidimensional challenges above the poverty line – including quality of work, social protection across the life cycle, systems of care, use of time between men and women, citizen security, preparedness to shocks, marginalization and discrimination.

UNDP has developed an analytical tool focused on the probabilities of moving in and out of poverty. 

We have found that while exiting poverty mostly correlates with labour markets and educational achievement, the factors which prevent people from falling back into poverty are mostly correlated with social protection, through both social transfers and pensions, as well as access to systems of care, physical and financial assets, and labour skill upgrading. 

We are now using these tools to inform our policy advice and support to governments – including some in this room - helping them to tackle the challenges of downward mobility. 

Conclusion

The 2030 Agenda represents a unique opportunity to rethink and implement integrated approaches to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities. ‘Leaving no one behind’ concerns us all, and requires facing challenges of the last mile, hard exclusions, pockets of poverty in specific locations and by specific groups of population, as well as building fiscal space and preparedness to prevent downward mobility, regardless of the average income of a given country.

At a moment in history where most of the poor and vulnerable live in middle income countries, this is the right time and place to take stock and chart the course to eradicate poverty everywhere in all of its dimensions. 

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