Did you know that equity is enjoying a resurgence? That is, equity as the moral sense of fairness we feel to be offended when we encounter unjust inequalities. For years, equity was excluded from public debate because it conflicted with individualism, consumerism, and other pre-requisite behaviours for the success of Homo economicus. Now, however, some commentators are having second thoughts, and are wondering whether there is a need to separate equity and economics.
The recent World Development Report (2006), titled Equity and Development, argues that economic development is optimised if it proceeds hand in hand with the pursuit of equity.
To support this argument, the report examines the effects of persistent inequity on health, economics and social development.
For health, the inequities caused by relative poverty are compounded by reduced access to infrastructure, education, employment and other public services. This limits the capacity of those affected to contribute to the economy. The report concludes that the full economic development of a community requires the participation of all those who are currently too poor as consumers and producers.
There are many health policy implications of this shift in thinking. The World Bank highlights the importance of investing in classic public health initiatives, such as immunisation, education on hygiene and childcare, and ensuring adequate and safe water supplies and sanitation. It also advocates for the public provision and regulation of universal health insurance.
Some Australian politicians will read the report with incredulity. The World Bank? Advocating equity? In the past, the World Bank’s loan conditions and some projects have been criticised for their disregard of equity. Yet with this change of heart, we may see words such as ‘equity’ reappear in Australian political speeches!
Anne-marie Boxall & Professor Stephen Leeder
Australian Health Policy Institute
at The University of Sydney
Sources: World Bank, World Development Report 2006
Available at: http://www.worldbank.org