NEW YORK (28 October 2022) – “Povertyism” – negative attitudes and behaviours towards people living in poverty – is as pervasive, toxic and harmful as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination and should be treated as such, according to a new report published by the UN expert on poverty.
“People are stereotyped and discriminated against purely because they are poor. This is frankly sickening and a stain on our society,” UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, told the UN General Assembly as it met for its 77th session in New York.
“As the global rise in energy and food prices throws millions more into poverty, they must be protected not just from the horrors of poverty, but also from the humiliation and exclusion caused by the scourge of povertyism,” De Schutter said.
The Special Rapporteur called on governments to urgently review their anti-discrimination laws, as well as consider “pro-poor” affirmative action, to ensure povertyism is wiped out.
“The dangerously misplaced belief that people living in poverty are to blame for their condition, and therefore somehow socially inferior, has a firm grip on society and will not disappear on its own,” De Schutter said.
“It is high time the law intervened to ban discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status, as many countries have already done with race, sex, age or disability.”
The report finds that povertyism has become firmly entrenched in public and private institutions, largely because decision-making positions tend to be held by those from higher-income backgrounds, skewing the system against people in poverty.
It details cases where children from low-income families have been refused access to certain schools, employers have judged CVs more harshly when the address suggests the person lives in poverty, and landlords have refused to rent apartments to tenants receiving social benefits. Even judges have been found to hand out harsher sentences based on anti-poor stereotypes.
Negative stereotyping against those on low incomes is also rife in social services, where people applying for social benefits have reported being treated with suspicion and disdain. Millions of dollars in benefits are going unclaimed as a result, with potential beneficiaries preferring to avoid the humiliation of applying. This is a major reason for the non-take-up of rights which is severely weakening the world’s social protection programmes, the report said.
“Poverty will never be eradicated while povertyism is allowed to fester, restricting access to education, housing, employment and social benefits to those who need them the most,” De Schutter said.
“The world is finally waking up to the injustices of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, and putting laws in place to stop them from destroying people’s lives,” the UN expert said.
“Povertyism is an affront to human rights, has no place in this world and must be treated just as seriously.”
Read the report.
Watch Olivier De Schutter’s presentation to the General Assembly on Friday 28 October via UN Web TV at 12pm Eastern Time (time subject to change).
Mr. Olivier De Schutter (Belgium) has been the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since May 2020. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and is part of the Special Procedures, the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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