India ‘among the most unequal countries in the world’

India ‘among the most unequal countries in the world’

The top 1% of India’s population earned more than a fifth of the total national income in 2021, with the bottom 50% earning just 13%, according to a new report.

The report, titled ‘World Inequality Report 2022’, written by Lucas Chancel, co-director of the World Inequality Lab, also described India as among the most unequal countries in the world.

The report said the average national income is ₹2,04,200 (£2,050). People in the bottom 50% earns ₹53,610 (£538), the top 10% earns more than 20 times (₹1,166,520/£11,700).

“While the top 10% and top 1% hold respectively 57% and 22% of total national income, the bottom 50% share has gone down to 13%. “India stands out as a poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite,” the report said.

According to the report, average household wealth in India stands at ₹983,010 (£9,850). It said that the deregulation and liberalisation policies implemented since the mid-1980s have led to “one of the most extreme increases in income and wealth inequality observed in the world”.

 

Gender inequalities

The report also said gender inequalities in India are very high: “The female labour income share is equal to 18%. This is significantly lower than the average in Asia [21%, excluding China],” the report said, adding that this value is one of the lowest in the world, slightly higher than the average share in Middle East (15%).

The report’s author said that national average income levels are poor predictors of inequality — among high-income countries, some are very unequal (such as the US), while other are relatively equal (Sweden).

“The same is true among low- and middle-income countries, with some exhibiting extreme inequality [Brazil and India], somewhat high levels (China) and moderate to relatively low levels [Malaysia, Uruguay],” it said.

 

Financial globalisation

The report noted that income and wealth inequalities have been on the rise nearly everywhere since the 1980s. “The rise has not been uniform: certain countries have experienced spectacular increases in inequality [including the US, Russia and India] while others [European countries and China] have experienced relatively smaller rises,” the report said. It pointed out that in 2021, after three decades of trade and financial globalisation, global inequalities remain extremely pronounced.

“They are about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century,” it said. Lucas Chancel, lead author of the report, said the Covid crisis has exacerbated inequalities between the very wealthy and the rest of the population. “Yet, in rich countries, government intervention prevented a massive rise in poverty, this was not the case in poor countries. This shows the importance of social states in the fight against poverty,” he said.