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Oxfam believes that reducing inequality is fundamental to fair and sustainable development. This fact sheet outlines trends in key dimensions of socio-economic inequality in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), looking especially at education, gender, health, social expenditure and environmental sustainability.

The BRICS countries have growing influence in the global economy, but face challenges in reducing inequality. Growth in the informal jobs sector is associated with deepening inequality, and working women are particularly affected. In South Africa, India and China, rural dwellers are increasingly poorer than their urban counterparts; 50.3% of China’s rural population is excluded from public benefits such as health insurance and higher levels of education. In all the BRICS, girls are disadvantaged in levels of access to education, especially in rural areas. Gaps in women’s and men’s economic participation are high, although the number of women in political leadership in Brazil and South Africa has increased. Regressive taxation systems, dependent on consumption rather than income, and subscription-based social security schemes, mean that the poorest are disproportionately taxed and lack security nets such as health insurance.

With climate change disproportionately impacting poor and vulnerable populations, strategies for ‘green growth’ must also address inequalities in people’s exposure to environmental risks. Oxfam aims to influence debates on public policies for development and resource use which is both sustainable and equitable, so that the benefits of growth meet the needs of both current and future generations.

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