A UN-appointed rights expert Olivier de Schutter has called for banning ‘povertyism’ – the word used to describe harmful attitudes and behaviours towards poor people.
Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said this while presenting his latest report to the General Assembly in New York, which focuses on this issue.
“For many years, we have recognised that racism, sexism, trans or homophobia, should be outlawed, should be prohibited in legislation, because they have no place in our world,” he said. “Well, the same should be said about ‘povertyism’, in terms of the negative treatment of people in poverty who are discriminated against simply because they live on low incomes.”
Mr de Schutter added, “They are discriminated against because they don’t have the cultural codes, because they don’t dress well because they have the wrong accent.”
The report stressed that poverty would not be eradicated as long as povertyism persists, and Schutter urged governments to review their anti-discrimination laws to protect people better.
According to him, although the global cost-of-living crisis will be an obstacle to eradicating poverty by 2030, countries can still make significant progress towards this Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).
“People are stereotyped and discriminated against purely because they are poor. This is frankly sickening and a stain on our society.’ When poor people talk about their lives, they mention things like their low incomes or being unable to find decent work,’’ added Mr de Schutter.
However, he said other issues surfaced in these conversations, such as humiliation and exclusion or being treated badly solely because of their socio-economic status, including when interacting with public and private institutions.
For example, people applying for social benefits have reported being treated with suspicion and disdain. As a result, mountains of money are going unclaimed.
“Being poor is not simply having insufficient income to buy the goods and services that allow you to lead a decent life. It is also being stigmatised. It is being looked down upon. It is being discriminated against in access to employment, housing, healthcare and education,” he said.
The special rapporteur also has recommended that authorities should abandon a “charity” approach to eradicating poverty and instead focus on one that upholds human rights and supports empowerment.
“As long as we remain in an approach to tackling poverty that is based on charity from the State, and as long as we don’t recognise that States have duties towards people in poverty who themselves are rights holders, then we will fail to effectively address poverty,” he said.
Mr de Schutter added, “Poverty should be seen as a violation of human rights, and people in poverty should have access to recourse mechanisms if they are excluded from housing, from education, from access to jobs on a nondiscriminatory basis, or indeed from social protection. And in many countries, this is difficult or even impossible to achieve.”