Equality can be understood as parity in the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, and equality of opportunities with regards to education and work and the fulfillment of one’s potential. Equity relates to a degree of equality in the living conditions of people, especially in terms of income and wealth, that society considers desirable. Reduction of inequalities is then justified by equity considerations.
The 1995 World Social Summit stressed that a people-centered approach to development must be based on the principles of equity and equality, so that all individuals have access to resources and opportunities. In the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action social justice, equity and equality reflect the concept of a just society ensuring the equitable distribution of income and greater access to resources through equity and equality of opportunity for all. Public policies have to correct market failures and promote equity and social justice. World Social Summit identified several ways Governments can promote equality and social justice:
- Ensuring people are equal before law
- Carrying out policies with a view to equalization of opportunities
- Expanding and improving access to basic services
- Providing equal opportunities in public-sector employment
- Encouraging formation of cooperatives and community-based institutions
- Minimize negative effects of structural adjustment programmes
- Promoting full access to preventive and curative health care
- Expanding basic education, improving its quality, enhancing access to formal and non-formal learning, ensuring equal access to education of girls
The 24th Special session of the General Assembly reiterated that social development requires reduction in inequality of wealth and a more equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth within and among nations.
Over the past decades, inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities, markets, and information have been on the rise worldwide, often causing and exacerbating poverty. Globalization occurs in the absence of a social agenda, aimed at mitigating the negative impacts of globalization on vulnerable groups of society.
A social perspective on development emphasizes the view that inequality impairs growth and development, including poverty eradication efforts and that equity itself is instrumental for economic growth and development. It aims at providing a better understanding of the effects of economic and social policies on equity in societies and promotes ways of advancing policies contributing to the reduction of inequalities. Policies for both inequality and poverty reduction are mutually reinforcing.
The linkages between poverty and inequality are highlighted in the 2005 Report on the World Social Situation: The Inequality Predicament. The report states that the goal of sustained poverty reduction cannot be achieved unless equality of opportunity and access to basic services is ensured and stresses that the goal of reducing inequality must be explicitly incorporated in policies and programmes aimed at poverty reduction.