Like racism and sexism, ‘povertyism’ should be illegal, UN says

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), UN-appointed human rights expert Olivier de Schutter has said.

He believes the world also can move forward in stamping out negative attitudes towards the millions of people worldwide who are struggling just to get by.

“People are stereotyped and discriminated against purely because they are poor. This is frankly sickening and a stain on our society,” he told the General Assembly recently.

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights was in New York to present his latest report, which focuses on this issue.

When poor people talk about their lives, they mention things like their low incomes, or being unable to find decent work, said Mr. De Schutter, who spoke to UN News just prior to addressing Member States.

However, other issues also surface in these conversations, he said, 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 stigmatized. It is being looked down upon. It is being discriminated against in access to employment, housing, healthcare and education,” he said.

His report calls for banning ‘povertyism’ – the word used to describe harmful attitudes and behaviours towards poor people.

“For many years we have recognized 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, because they don’t have the cultural codes, because they don’t dress well, because they have the wrong accent.”

The report argues that poverty will not be eradicated so long as povertyism persists, and Mr. De Schutter urged governments to review their anti-discrimination laws to better protect people.

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 recognize that States have duties towards people in poverty who themselves are rights holders, then we will fail to effectively address poverty,” he said.

“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.”