An independent United Nations human rights expert, Olivier De Shutter, has informed the General Assembly that it is possible to break the vicious chain of poverty and shift the paradigm. This is because poverty and privilege “continue to
In his message marking International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, on October 17 UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, disclosed that for the first time in two decades, extreme poverty is on the rise.
Describing current levels of poverty as “a moral indictment of our times”, Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies and societies around the world, with some 120 million more people falling into poverty last year.
“A lopsided recovery is further deepening inequalities between the Global North and South”, said Mr. Guterres. “Solidarity is missing in action – just when we need it most”.
The fight against poverty must also be a battle against inequality.
The UN chief said that vaccine inequality has
“We must end this outrage, tackle debt distress and ensure recovery investment in countries with the greatest need”, he spelled out.
Guterres outlined a three-pronged global recovery approach to ‘Building Forward Better’ that begins with stronger political will and partnerships to achieve universal social protection by 2030.
For a transformative recovery to end to the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities that perpetuated poverty even before the pandemic, the world must invest in job re-skilling for the growing green economy, according to the UN chief.
“And we must invest in quality jobs in the care economy, which will promote greater equality and ensure everyone receives the dignified care they deserve”, he said.
Recovery must be inclusive so as not to leave so many behind, “increasing the vulnerability of already marginalised groups, and pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ever further out of reach”, Guterres added.
“The number of women in extreme poverty far outpaces that of men. Even before the pandemic, the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa – and that gap has only grown”, he upheld, adding, “we cannot recover with only half our potential”.
Economic investments must target women entrepreneurs; formalize the informal sector; focus on education, social protection, universal childcare, health care and decent work; and bridge the digital divide, including its deep gender dimension, he said.
To build a resilient, decarbonized and net-zero world, the recovery must be sustainable, which was the UN chief’s third point.
He urged everyone to “listen far more” to those living in poverty, address indignities and “dismantle barriers” to inclusion, in every society.
“Today and every day, let us join hands to end poverty and create a world of justice, dignity and opportunity for all.”
In his message, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner spoke of numerous initiatives underway to help communities to Build Forward Better.
Against the backdrop that “people living in poverty are bearing the brunt of changing climate”, he pointed to UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025 as a “bold pledge to lift 100 million people out of multidimensional poverty”.
Describing access to renewable energy as a “vital lever” to creating decent green jobs while driving down carbon emissions, Achim echoed UNDP’s ambitious commitment to work with partners to provide 500 million additional people with access to clean, affordable energy by 2025.
“Efforts like the UNDP Climate Promise are vital, helping 120 countries to reduce emissions while boosting the resilience of vulnerable communities” and also “helping to end poverty and shaping a future that will balance the needs of both people and planet”, he said.
The International Day can be traced back to 17 October 1987, when more than 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris – where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.
They proclaimed poverty a violation of human rights, affirmed the need to ensure respect for these rights, and inscribed their commitments on a commemorative stone – replicas of which have been unveiled around the world, including in the garden of UN Headquarters in New York.
Since then, people have gathered every year on October 17 to show their solidarity with the poor.
However, presenting his report, The persistence of poverty: how real equality can break the vicious cycle, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, De Shutter, said that “with political will”, it is possible to end centuries of entrenched inequality and “move from fate to opportunity”.
“Investing in early childhood, promoting inclusive education, given young adults a basic income financed through inheritance taxes, and combating anti-poor discrimination are the key ingredients needed to break the cycles of advantage and disadvantage”, De Shutter said in his statement.
Acknowledging that many countries pride themselves on ensuring high levels of social mobility, the human rights expert stated that “the truth is that the persistence of privilege at the top, and deprivation at the bottom, are all too commonplace.”
“The top 10 percent of people living in OECD countries control 52 percent of total net wealth, while the bottom 60 percent own just over 12 percent, condemning the poor to a lifetime of poverty”, he said.
According to the report, based on data from countries which are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it takes four to five generations for children in low-income households to reach the mean income in their country. In emerging countries such as Brazil, Colombia or South Africa, it can take up to nine or even more generations.
Observing that children born in disadvantaged families were denied equal opportunity, the Special Rapporteur examined the channels through which poverty is perpetuated, in the areas of health, housing, education and employment.
“Children born in poor families have less access to healthcare, decent housing, quality education and employment than those in better-off households”, De Shutter said. “This dramatically reduces their chances of breaking free from the poverty trap”.
Describing the outcomes as “appalling”, the Rapporteur added that children born in a family experiencing poverty are more than three times as likely to be poor, aged 30, than those who were never poor.
The UN rights expert reminded that child poverty is not only “morally unconscionable and a human rights violation”, but also expensive. “In the United States, child poverty costs over one trillion dollars
Calling for and, end to the myth that inequality is an incentive that encourages people to work harder, De Shutter said that the facts point to the exact opposite: “Inequality lowers social mobility and entrenches advantage and disadvantage over decades. When we fetishize merit, we stigmatize those in poverty or with low incomes, and blame them for their own condition”.
Stressing that “no child should be penalized for being born in poverty” in mind, and stating that, in fact, “poverty is a failure not of the individual, but of society”, De Shutter called on governments to act now, “before another generation is condemned to the same fate as their parents”.
De Shutter was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on May 1, 2020. He and all Special Rapporteurs are tasked with examining and reporting back on a specific human rights theme, or a country situation.
The positions are honorary, and the experts are neither UN staff, nor paid for their work.