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The staggering gap between rich and poor

There is an increasing awareness in many countries that the divide between the rich and poor is ever-growing - and no less importantly, that the wealth of the particular country is, in reality, in the hands of a very small number.

Now a new report from the UN puts things into sharp focus.   The figures are both startling and appalling.

"Advances in human development risk being erased without a renewed global commitment to eradicating inequality, tackling climate change, and providing basic services, according to the UN's 2014 Human Development Report, Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Enhancing Resilience (pdf), released Thursday in Tokyo, Japan.

While poverty is shown to be in overall decline and gains have been made in health and nutrition, the report states that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest, and that 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. It also found that more than 2.2 billion people are living in or near poverty and close to half of all workers are in informal or insecure employment.

"There is also a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today — in livelihoods, in personal security, in the environment and in global politics," the report notes. "There is evidence that the overall rate of progress is slowing across all human development groups. It is critical to deal with vulnerability now to secure gains and prevent disruptions to continuing progress."

Such vulnerability, according to the authors, stems from increasing income inequality, food insecurity, natural disasters, regional conflicts, and political corruption, among other causes. To combat these factors and boost what the report refers to as "human resilience," the UN recommends "universal provision of basic social services," such as education, water supply, health care, and promotion of full employment. It also highlights the importance of social protection — unemployment insurance, pensions, and labor market regulations — in a world where 80 percent of the population lacks such safety net programs."

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