The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing over the years – the Gini coefficient between early 1990s and late 2000s increased from 30.8 to 33.9 in India. Weaker labour market institutions, inadequate social protection systems, poor-quality education, inadequate access to credit and land and excessive asset concentration are among the factors for widening income gaps, according to an UN-ESCAP report of 2014. In addition to vertical inequality among individuals, there have also been widening horizontal disparities, especially between rural and urban areas. This is complex for large multiracial countries like India with significant regional variations, since it triggers social and political instability.
India’s richest 10 per cent have been getting steadily richer since 2000, and now hold nearly three-quarters of total wealth. India’s top 1 per cent – its super-rich – have been getting richer even faster. In the early 2000s, India’s top 1 per cent held a lower share of India’s total wealth than the world’s top 1 per cent held of its total wealth. That has changed with the global recession –India’s top 1% now holds close to half of the country’s total wealth. Thus not surprisingly, India dominates the world’s poorest 10 per cent. The income inequality is accentuated by the stark unequal access to healthcare and education between the poor and the rich. Despite this, the government of India spends less than 5% of its GDP on health and education.
The Child Support programme in Chennai is a community based intervention to shore up the social wage of the community through education of children and their mothers and other community level interventions to improve the self organising capacity of women workers and improve their quality of life. The programme involves training of women workers in the selected localities, primarily employed as domestic and garment workers, on legal rights and entitlements, on alternative livelihood possibilities and skill development, on self organising for collective bargaining. The programme also focuses on key social problems that create barriers to the self organising of women workers. Community level programmes are organised to fight alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse and sexual harassment both at home and at work. The community libraries and activity centres for the children act as a space where the children interact among themselves in a safe and secure environment and also learn through innovative teaching support. The programme has led to the creation of community action groups with large participation of women, including in leadership roles.