Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Entwicklung und Humanitäre Hilfe
Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, presented a report on the relationship between poverty and inequality at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly
In the report, De Schutter reveals how poverty is being perpetuated in areas of health, housing, education, and employment. Children born into poverty face inequalities of income and wealth which subsequently constrain them to the vicious cycles of poverty. COVID-19 has adversely affected the Global South, especially since the consequences of the pandemic have forced many into poverty due to obstacles in receiving affordable, accessible healthcare and in finding employment. De Schutter concludes with recommendations on how to break the vicious cycles of poverty.
Global income inequality has been increasing since 1980, as the rich become richer and the poor get poorer. In 1980, half of the world’s income belonged to the top 10% of earners while the top 1% held 16% of the world’s income which increased to 22% in 2000. The share of the bottom 50% of the population remained at 9%. Global inequality continues to grow as the income for the top 10% is growing faster than for the poorest 10%.
Especially high-income earners often see their success as the result of personal efforts and abilities which leads to the understanding that people in poverty should be blamed for being poor. However, the idea that poverty is caused by personal failings is outdated, on the contrary poverty is caused by structural factors such as high unemployment, stagnating wages and discrimination.
“Equality of opportunities is at the heart of our understanding of a just society. This ideal is based on a simple conviction: no child should be penalized for being born in poverty.” – Olivier De Schutter
“Equality of opportunities is at the heart of our understanding of a just society. This ideal is based on a simple conviction: no child should be penalized for being born in poverty.” –
Investment in early childhood can help children born in poverty. By supporting families during early childhood, child poverty can be reduced, which could increase children’s chances of improving their livelihoods as adults. Supporting these families with maternity benefits, universal child benefits, and affirmative programs like the desegregation of neighborhoods along with promoting access to higher education, can all contribute to ending the persistence of disadvantages. Improving early childhood education, care, and support for low-income families is crucial to breaking the cycles of poverty.
Inclusive education is needed to provide equal opportunities to disadvantaged children. Learning environments are sometimes biased against low-income children. It is important that inclusive schools value each child for the contribution it makes to the classroom rather than select and assess children based on academic performance.
Basic income for young adults can help to give children from low-income families a chance when they enter adulthood. By providing a provision of a universal basic income from the end of secondary education to the age of 25, the risks associated with means-tested programs (which are social benefits based on a needs-based assessment of the social services) such as stigmatizing the recipients can be avoided. In this way, benefits will be easier and more equally distributed. This could be financed by for example, increasing taxes on inheritance which would also reduce the growth of wealth inequalities.
Placing an emphasis on prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic disadvantage can help break the cycles that perpetuate poverty. Indirect discrimination should be prohibited along with direct discrimination, as it disproportionately affects those in poverty. A right to “reasonable accommodation” should be given to the socio-economically disadvantaged so that their specific circumstances can be considered. The systemic nature of discrimination on grounds of poverty must be addressed through affirmative action programs, since they can support individuals in poverty with access to higher education and to sectors of employment.
It is important to break the vicious cycles of poverty so that society as a whole can tackle the global inequalities that are leaving the poor behind while the world progresses. By investing in early childhood education and care, ensuring inclusive education, providing young adults with basic income, family households with cash transfers, and prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic disadvantage, those who are living in poverty, especially children, can be given a chance to succeed and put an end to poverty.
UN (2021): Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter: The persistence of poverty: how real equality can break the vicious cycles