The impact of work conditions on human development in 2015

With the end of year festive season you may have missed the fact that United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published its Human Development Report on 14 December 2015.

This report is most famous for its Human Development Index (HDI), which lists countries on the basis of 3 development criteria – a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living – and has been published since 1990.

Apart from the Index I had never really paid attention to the Report itself, but now with the focus of my studies and my new job at EuropeAid, I thought it might be a good idea to give it a more thorough look. I discovered some interesting facts about the evolution of human development last year, which I summarize in the infographic below.

But the most interesting part is the story around the report.

Key facts about human development and work in 2015

UNDP celebrated its 25th Human Development Report and Index publication last year, and this hindsight of 25 years allows them to put forward some very positive figures about the decrease of extreme poverty since 1990 and an increased access to education and health for millions of people.

The report focusses on 5 dimensions, as illustrated above:

  • the Index itself, without major surprises this year again. The bottom 10 countries are all Subsaharan African countries and the top 10 includes 10 OECD members, 7 European countries and 4 members of the G7;
  • wealth inequalities, with an increase in working poor people and a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor;
  • gender inequalities in work conditions;
  • digital possibilities, with a striking increase in access to ICT in developing countries;
  • regional disparities in human development and work conditions, well summarized in the regional press releases issued on the occasion of the Report’s release.

Open questions about the Human Development Report

For the first time, the report is also published in a web format which is rather basic visually but really convenient and easy to navigate. A number of very useful interactive diagrams help make sense of the report data.

What does strike me is the focus on work, and sustainable work to be more precise, taken in this year’s Report. I couldn’t find an explanation to this choice, neither in the Report itself nor in the video or press releases presenting the Report. It’s a noteworthy choice, which I’m however divided about: on one hand, it moves us away from the poverty paradigm and seeks to shed light on a more positive phenomenon, one that is at the centre of billion people’s lives; on the other hand, it does focus all efforts on work as if it was the only viable criterion to evaluate human development.

But there is so much more to human life and satisfaction than work! These other dimensions are nonetheless much more difficult to reduce to a set of figures, hence the valuable focus on work as a proxy for a wider range of dimensions. It would be interesting for future editions to better explain the choice of each year’s focus, in particular since there has never been the same focus twice, and work is a rather apolitical focus compared to for example “the rise of the South” (2013), “human rights” (2000) or “people’s participation” (1993).

What is the fact or figure that struck you most in the Report or in the infographic above?

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