Vietnam made progress in several areas of policy to fight inequality

Compared to other countries in ASEAN, Vietnam’s performance is better in terms of health and social protection spending, collecting high levels of tax, and promoting women’s labour rights, according to a new analysis from Oxfam and the Development Finance International.

Compared to other countries in ASEAN, Vietnam’s performance is better in terms of health and social protection spending, collecting high levels of tax, and promoting women’s labour rights. Photo: Internet

New global index shows “catastrophic” failure to tackle inequality left majority of world’s countries woefully unprepared for COVID-19.

Very low spending on public healthcare, weak social safety nets and poor labor rights meant the majority of the world’s countries were woefully ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19, reveals new analysis from Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) on October 8.  

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) shows that only 26 out of 158 countries were spending the recommended 15 percent of their budgets on health prior to the pandemic, and in 103 countries at least one in three workers lacked basic labor rights and protections, like sick pay, when the virus struck.

The index ranks 158 governments on their policies on public services, tax and workers’ rights, three areas pivotal to reducing inequality and weathering the COVID-19 storm. It is being launched ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) virtual Annual Meetings next week.

Women, who generally earn less, save less and hold insecure jobs, have been particularly hard hit by the lockdowns introduced in response to the pandemic while unpaid care work and gender-based violence have increased dramatically. Nearly half of the world’s countries do not have adequate legislation on sexual assault and 10 countries have no laws on equal pay or gender discrimination.

Norway tops index, United States flails at 26, South Sudan ranks last. Overall, Vietnam does well on CRII, coming second within ASEAN, and ranks 77 out of 158 countries this year.

Low- and lower-middle-income countries may not score as highly on the overall index but are clearly taking steps to reduce inequality, despite their relatively low incomes.

A woman gets financial support from the Government's financial relief package aimed to help vulnerable people overcome difficulties caused by COVID-19. Photo: VNA

Vietnam is to be congratulated on its recent progress in several areas of policy to fight inequality. Compared to other countries in ASEAN, Vietnam’s performance is better in terms of health and social protection spending, collecting high levels of tax, and promoting women’s labour rights, according to the report.

Since the 2018 CRI Index, Vietnam has increased its health spending, although it must do even more to reduce health inequalities and the significant amount ordinary people need to pay for the cost of healthcare. Vietnam’s tax collection is strong, especially compared with other countries in the region, but it could still do more to eliminate tax incentives for corporations. Its score on labour rights remains low, but if it implements the recent welcome agreement to allow workers to form their own independent labour unions, this score will improve in future CRI Indexes, according to the report.

The government is also considering making reducing inequality a core part of its upcoming ten-year plan, which would be a very important and positive step.

Following reforms of its healthcare system, Vietnam has been increasing its spending considerably over the last few years, although again this comes from a low base, and some very large health inequalities remain. Vietnam’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been one of the best in the world, the findings pointed out.

It moved rapidly with containment; targeted testing, tracking and quarantine; and public communications. It also included measures to limit increases in poverty and inequality, a plan on providing financial relief of USD 2.7 billion for 20 million vulnerable people, and paying workers whose contracts were suspended a monthly allowance of VND 1.8 million (USD 77,65).

It is also suggested to move ahead with its adoption of laws allowing independent workers’ representative organisations in accordance with International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and creating an enabling institutional environment for fairer public policy, with citizens and civil society empowered to participate and provide feedback; and monitor and reduce inequality as part of poverty reduction.

Minh Nguyen