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Poverty in the land of plenty, Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Extreme poverty in the United States: UN Special Rapporteur

In the 38th session Human Rights Council held on 18 June–6 July 2018, Philip G. Alston the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and the international law scholar and human rights practitioner announced his findings after conducting a two-weeks fact finding mission across the country including visits to Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington, D.C and delivered a report its data were also gathered from more than 40 related researches aiming to consider the role of the Trump’s administration policies in dealing with the phenomenon of extreme poverty and human rights. Alston warned that the republican’s decision on tax bill are making the life harder for 41 million of Americans living in the poverty. The following is the the most significant findings of the report:

A Review of Literature

From 1998 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided to annually deliver a report on ‘World’s Human Rights’ in cooperation with independent experts. By the establishment of United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006, the responsibility was delegated to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) and a special rapporteur on ‘Human Rights and Poverty’ assigned in 2008. As ordered by the Council, the special rapporteur was called for to work on the ‘Improvement and protection of human civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and deliver the results in two formats of ‘subject report’ and ‘report for each country’.

On 2016 and 2017, the poverty situation report in Romania, Chile, Mauritania, China and Saudi Arabia was delivered to the UN Human Right Council session. In the recent session held on June–July 2018, Philip Alston the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights delivered the report of sever poverty and human rights violations in Ghana and United States of America. The next report will be of United Kingdom of Great Britain.

‘Who is Poor’ from UN’s Perspective

Unlike the other organizations such as the World Bank, which considers the daily income as the poverty index, the UN defines poverty as a multi-dimensional phenomenon which is directly related to the human rights. Based on this view, the lack of income, the lack of human development and social exclusion are three main dimensions of extreme poverty. The two first dimension’s focus on the individual aspects of life and depend on the ability to provide a living, having access to good and services such as health, education, food and other basic needs for a decent life. The social exclusion index on the other hand focuses on the social relationship and considers the role of poverty, unemployment and membership in ethnic minorities which happens following the social interaction  deprivation and hierarchy of political power.

From UN’s perspective, the poverty is the cause and the reason for human rights violation. In other words, extreme poverty sometimes results in human rights violations when the poor people are forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy environments to survive and make ends meet. Sometimes poverty extends due to the governments’ lack of compliance and accountability for human rights.

The Summary of the Report on Extreme Poverty in the United States

  • The united states of America, a land of freedom and opportunities, one of the richest country in the world, a scout in leading some parts of the world, the vanguard of science, technology and innovation, having the best universities and companies, but these highlights do not represent all aspects of the American society.
  • Report says “about 40 million of American citizens live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty” (p.3).
  • The United States has the highest income inequality among the Western countries. The share of the top 1 per cent of the population in the United States has grown steadily in recent years. In 2016 they owned 38.6 per cent of total wealth. In relation to both wealth and income the share of the bottom 90 per cent has fallen in most of the past 25 years. Trump’s tax cut policy has exacerbated this situation, since the government compensates the budgetary deficits through reducing the cost of welfare services.
  • The American dream has turned into an American illusion. In contrary to the idea of an American dream, one cannot get out of poverty by relying solely on personal effort. United States of America has the lowest rate of economic mobility among the world’s rich countries. Discrimination and inequality in this country have become a systematic matter which is not at individuals’ will. To say optimistically, the issue of poverty and inequality has been neglected in US general policies over the past 50 years. While in the past few years the government policies appeared to have deliberately removed the basic protections of the poor, punishing the unemployed people, and changing the basic health needs from citizen rights to privilege.
  • International Human treaties recognize the education and health rights, basic living conditions and protection of poor people while the US government unlike the other developed countries dose not consider the deaths due to hunger and lack of access to health care as an example of human rights abuses.
  • The continuity of poverty in the United States is rooted in political will, not in the absence of optimal solution. Poverty eradication does not require a magical instruction. The long-term experience of fighting poverty shows that tackling this phenomenon needs the implementation of policies which the government is bound to accept and comply with in their human rights obligations. They include: democratic decision-making, full employment policies, social protection for the vulnerable, a fair and effective justice system, gender and racial equality, respect for human dignity, responsible fiscal policies and environmental justice. The US government falls well short on each of these measures.

In his report, the special Rapporteur Philip Alston digs into details of US government policies showing how these policies are counterproductive in fighting poverty which spreads poverty and human rights abuses in the United States Society.

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