The Problem

Equity comes from the idea of moral equality, that people should be treated as equals. Thinking about equity can help us decide how to distribute goods and services across society, holding the state responsible for its influence over how goods and services are distributed in a society, and using this influence to ensure fair treatment for all citizens. Applying these ideas in a specific country context involves hard choices, and embedding discussions of distributive justice into domestic political and policy debates is central to national development, but three areas of considerable consensus can be identified. In order of priority, these are:

1. Equal life chances: There should be no differences in outcomes based on factors for which people cannot be held responsible.
2. Equal concern for people’s needs: Some goods and services are necessities, and should be distributed according solely to the level of need.
3. Meritocracy: Positions in society and rewards should reflect differences in effort and ability, based on fair competition.

Unfortunately, there is considerable inequity in developing countries. People’s access to and interaction with key institutions are shaped by power balances in the political, economic and social spheres, often leading to adverse incorporation and social exclusion.