There is a strong link between poverty and human rights. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights states:
The existence of widespread extreme poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights; its immediate alleviation and eventual elimination must remain a high priority for the international community.
Our world is extremely unequal. The world's richest man in 2010 reportedly earned €15 billion. To understand how shocking this "salary" is, let us look at some countries' annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2009, Afghanistan with a population of 29 million had a GDP of €10 billion; the GDP of Georgia with population of 4 million was €8 billion.1 We live in a world where one billionaire earns as much a year as the annual production of entire countries. Staggering inequality and poverty affects not only developing regions, but also wealthy countries. In Europe, we still have homeless people sleeping on the streets, families who get evicted because they cannot afford to pay rent, children who do not get sufficient food, and elderly people who struggle to keep their homes warm during the winter. Poverty is not an uncontrollable destiny; it is a question of social justice and the fulfilment of human rights.
There are a number of ways to define and to measure poverty. The differences in definitions and measurement represent not only different ways to collect and analyse statistical data, but also lead to distinct approaches in combating poverty. Poverty is usually measured as either absolute or relative poverty. In both cases, a poverty threshold, or poverty line, is defined, and people falling under this line are considered poor.
Absolute poverty (also called extreme poverty) is the lack of sufficient resources to secure basic life necessities, including amongst others safe drinking water, food, or sanitation. The poverty line is often calculated on the basis of income: where the income of a person or a family falls below a certain level considered to be the minimum required for a reasonable standard of living, then this person or family is considered poor.
The World Bank currently defines absolute poverty as living on less than $1.25 (equalling about €0.9) a day.3 The World Bank estimated that in 2005 there were 1.4 billion people living in absolute poverty. The absolute poverty figures provided by the World Bank are undoubtedly most often cited in the mass media as well as used by governments and NGOs. However, while the World Bank claims that absolute poverty has been decreasing since the 1980s, a number of researchers4 have criticised the measurement methodology of the Bank and stated that the absolute poverty numbers are underestimated.
Peasants of La Via Campesina mobilise against deepening of poverty
In May 2010, representatives of La Via Campesina from Europe and Latin America joined demonstrators in Madrid demanding the abandonment of the negotiations to sign free-trade agreements between the EU and Latin American countries. Campaigners argued that such agreements would benefit transnational corporations while deepening poverty. La Via Campesina opposes the neoliberal policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation and believes that only a human rights based approach can address hunger, poverty and climate change.
In Europe, poverty is generally understood as relative poverty, in which case a person or a household is considered to be poor when their income and resources are worse than what is thought to be adequate or socially acceptable in the society in which they live. Poor people are often excluded from participating in economic, social and cultural activities that are considered to be the norm for other people, and their enjoyment of fundamental rights may be restricted.5 The fact that European countries tend to refer to relative poverty thresholds when discussing poverty issues does not mean that there are no people living in absolute poverty in these societies. For example 25% of children live in absolute poverty in south-eastern Europe and in the Commonwealth of Independent States.6
Living in poverty may entail ...
- isolation from family and friends
- feeling powerless and excluded with little control over the decisions that affect your day-to-day life
- lacking information about the supports and services available
- having problems in getting basic needs met, including access to decent housing, health services and schools and life-long learning opportunities
- living in an unsafe neighbourhood with high levels of crime and violence and poor environmental conditions or in a remote and isolated rural area
- being unable to afford essential utilities like water, heat and electricity or to buy healthy food or new clothing or to use public transport
- being unable to afford to buy medicines or visit the dentist
- living from day to day with no savings or reserves for times of crisis such as losing a job or falling ill
- being exploited and forced into illegal situations
- experiencing racism and discrimination
- being unable to participate in normal social and recreational life such as going to the pub or cinema or sports events or visiting friends or buying birthday presents for family members.
Adapted from the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) internet site http://www.eapn.eu
Human Development – a new approach to poverty
The dominating view of the 1980s, which saw poverty as income deprivation and poverty reduction strategies as linked to economic growth, has been strongly criticised by a number of scholars who believe that freedom from poverty is much more than access to wealth. A new approach to poverty reduction was proposed together with a new method of measuring development. The Human Development Index is a comparative measure of various parameters that affect the quality of life in a country, for instance life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, gender equality and child welfare. The Human Development Index is published in annual Human Development Reports which are commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme.
Poverty can be both a cause and a result of human rights violations, meaning that not only a failure to fulfil human rights can cause poverty, but also that poverty itself can increase human rights violations. States have legal obligations towards people living in poverty; all these obligations come from the social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights people have. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights explains that all rights have to be fulfilled "individually and through international assistance and cooperation". This means that there is not only a national responsibility but also an international responsibility for developed states, as well as others who are "in a position to assist" in poverty eradication. Therefore, the elimination of poverty is not a question of charity or good will of the wealthiest states; it is a question of fulfilling human rights obligations.
Demand Dignity Campaign
In 2009, Amnesty International launched a campaign called Demand Dignity. The campaign, planned to last for at least six years, mobilises people to seek accountability of national and international actors for human rights abuses that deepen poverty and keep people trapped in deprivation. International and local campaign events include workshops, concerts, photo exhibitions, conferences, petitions and much more.
Learn more about the campaign and about how to take action at www.amnesty.org, or from your local Amnesty International website.
Question: Should developed countries be held accountable if they fail to help fight poverty?
Human rights of particular importance
for poverty reduction
Given the indivisibility, interrelatedness and interdependence of human rights, all human rights are significant to the eradication of poverty. However, some rights are identified as being of particular importance in this context. The UN publication Draft Guidelines: Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies7 advises focusing on the following human rights when planning poverty reduction policies:
Right to health. Ill health may be both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Ill health may affect children's performance at school, work productivity, can result in unemployment and may negatively affect the capability to participate in social and cultural life. At the same time, life in poverty may lead to malnutrition, increased exposure to an unhealthy environment and restricted access to medical services that can cause ill health.
Right to education. Education is one of the best long-term solutions to poverty. With the help of education, poor children and adults can develop competencies necessary to lift themselves out of poverty.
In 2007, ATD Fourth World started a street library project in Poland. Every week a team of animators goes to a centre for Chechen refugees in Warsaw, where some 350 families are staying in a block of flats while waiting for a decision on whether they will be allowed to stay in Poland or will be sent back to Chechnya. Some of the children do not go to school; that is why the team of animators has opened a street library in their neighbourhood.
You can learn more about this project at www.atd-fourthworld.org
Right to decent work. Inadequate and insecure livelihoods constitute poverty. As a consequence of limited opportunities for work, poor people often take temporary, low paid, undocumented jobs and work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. They are more vulnerable to mistreatment and harassment by employees and have fewer opportunities to seek redress than others. Many of them are trapped in dangerous and illegal work such as sex work, child labour, bonded labour and other slavery-like practices.
Question: Is the minimum salary in your country sufficient to live in dignity?
Right to adequate food. Living in poverty may lead to hunger and malnutrition, which affect children's and adults' ability to concentrate at school or work. Physical and psychological effects of deprivation of quality food are likely to deepen poverty.
It is Time to Think Globally and Act Locally
Developed countries are not immune to hunger and malnutrition. In 2009, 115 million people were at risk of poverty in the European Union.10 One of the initiatives to fight hunger and food waste is the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA), which brings together 240 food banks in Europe. In 2010, the European Food Banks collected 359,960 tons of food and distributed them to 4.9 million people in co-operation with other organisations and social services. The Food Banks link together the fight against food poverty, exclusion, and waste, and the call for solidarity.
All team members of FEBA are volunteers who have previously held various responsibilities in business, public services and associations.
Find your local Food Bank www.eurofoodbank.eu
Question: Are there people in your community who cannot always afford three meals a day?
Right to adequate housing. The right to adequate housing is the right of everyone to acquire and sustain a safe and secure home in which to live in peace and dignity. Most poor people live in disadvantaged areas in inadequate housing or are facing homelessness. They may face problems of overcrowding, pollution, noise, and may have no access to drinking water, sanitation, or heating. Poor people often live in remote and unsafe areas that are usually stigmatised by others. Inadequate housing and homelessness is a result of poverty, and can lead to deeper deprivation and exclusion.
Criminalisation of homelessness
In 2011, the Hungarian Parliament voted on a law which allows for the imprisonment of those found "guilty" of sleeping in public spaces twice in a six-month period. In an interview, the Hungarian Minister of the Interior said that the government "will clean public spaces of beggars and all those who put you in a bad mood…"11. The new law, which makes recurrent residing in public places an offence, was passed despite the fact that appropriate services are not available to people without adequate housing in many towns of Hungary.
Question: How is the issue of homelessness tackled in your community?
Right to personal security. Poor people usually face multiple forms of insecurity. In addition to experiencing financial, economic and social insecurity, they are often subject to death-threats, harassment, intimidation, discriminatory treatment, and physical violence by state and non-state actors. They usually live in areas with higher crime rates and are less protected by the police.
Right to appear in public without shame. The right to appear in public without shame derives from several other human rights, such as the right to privacy, to adequate clothing, to take part in cultural life and to live in dignity. Poor people are often marginalised and excluded. Living in poverty may negatively affect a person's self-esteem and obstruct their capability to appear in public without shame and to participate actively in social and cultural life.
A bank that lends only to the poor
In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below".
The Grameen Bank was founded by Yunus in Bangladesh in 1976. The Bank works exclusively for the poor, and most of its borrowers are women. It provides long term micro-credit without requiring collateral. The objective of the programme is to provide financial services to the poor to help them find a dignified livelihood and provide education for their children. Even beggars can be granted small loans with no interest fees.
Right of equal access to justice. The poor are especially vulnerable to discrimination in the administration of justice. Poor people are often unable to obtain court protection, because they do not have enough money to pay for legal representation. In cases where free legal aid is available, poor people may still lack the necessary information and confidence to seek justice before the court. In addition to this, experience shows that poor people are more often than others accused of criminal behaviour and their guarantee of presumption of innocence is more likely to be disrespected.
Question: Do you think a poor person and a wealthy person enjoy equal protection in courts in your country? If not, how could equal protection be ensured?
Political rights and freedoms. As a result of discrimination, poor people often lack information, opportunities and skills that are necessary for active participation in political decision making. They are excluded from or under-represented in political bodies. Enjoyment of political rights and freedoms by poor people is essential for fighting social exclusion, marginalisation and poverty.
Question: How are the interests of poor people represented in decision making in your community?
The human right to development
The Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986 was the first international instrument that referred exclusively to the right to development. The document offers a human rights based approach to development and to poverty eradication. The United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, Dr. Arjun Sengupta, stated that the elimination of poverty is an essential element in the promotion and realisation of development as a human right, and that increased access to facilities such as health, education, housing and nutrition should be provided to the poor in order to increase their capability to come out of poverty.
Sengupta further explains that the right to development (RtD) can be seen as a vector of different rights including the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, the right to housing and other economic, social, cultural as well as civil and political rights together with economic growth (G). The right to development will be realised only if all the human rights (HR) improve or if at least one improves and no other is violated. If some rights improve while any one of the others deteriorates, it will not be possible to claim any improvement of the right to development.16
The right to development
1. The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.
Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development15
The final report from the UN on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reports on the status of poverty in the world in 2015:
Extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that proportion dropped to 14 per cent in 2015.
- Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. Most progress occurred since 2000.
- The number of people in the working middle class—living on more than $4 a day—has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015. This group now makes up half the workforce in the developing regions, up from just 18 per cent in 1991.
- The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990, from 23.3 per cent in 1990–1992 to 12.9 per cent in 2014–2016.
Clearly, work still needs to be done. Thus, on 25 September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (A summary of all the SDGs can be found under the Further Information section of the activity, How much do we need?)
Sustainable development goal (SDG) 1 is to ”End poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030”. There are five targets:
- 1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
- 1.2 By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
- 1.3 Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
- 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
- 1.5 By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
It is increasingly recognised that human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development. The MDGs served as a proxy for certain economic and social rights but ignored other important human rights linkages. By contrast, human rights principles and standards are now strongly reflected in an ambitious new global development framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Grounded in international human rights law, the agenda offers critical opportunities to further advance the realization of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination.
The following is a summary of the linkages between SDG 1 (no poverty) and international human rights instruments:
- Right to an adequate standard of living [UDHR art. 25; ICESCR art. 11; CRC art. 27]
- Right to social security [UDHR art. 22; ICESCR art. 9; CRPD art. 28; CRC art. 26]
- Equal rights of women in economic life [CEDAW arts. 11, 13, 14(2)(g), 15(2), 16(1)] (http://www.ohchr.org)
More detailed linkages can be found in the Human Rights Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by The Danish Institute for Human Rights (www.humanrights.dk). It uncovers the human rights anchorage of all 17 goals and 169 targets, as well as the adequacy of the global indicators. The Guide enables actors to use human rights as a driver for realising the SDGs – and to use the SDGs to realise human rights.
Evidence from many countries persistently shows that young people who grow up in poverty are generally more vulnerable: they are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant early, to have lower skills and aspirations, and to be low-paid, unemployed and dependent on welfare. Poverty directly contributes to a denial of their other human rights: it can deprive them of the right to education, to association, to rest and leisure, to participating in the community, and to other civil and political rights.
According to Eurostat – the European Union's statistical database – more than 20% of children and youth aged below 24 were living at risk of poverty in 2010 in the EU. It means that one in five young people is living in a household with an income that is less than 60% of the national median income.18
In 2010, The European Youth Forum in its Policy Paper on Young People and Poverty identified a difficult transition to an autonomous adult life as one of the major causes of youth poverty in Europe. The Paper observes that young people who leave their parents' home are more likely to become poor19. Those who are living with their families or as couples without children have a lower risk of poverty than young people living alone or as a single parent. In a Eurobarometer survey conducted among people of 15-30 years of age20, the majority mentioned financial reasons as to why young adults stay with their families longer than before.
ENTER! – Access to Social Rights for All Young People
The youth sector of the Council of Europe launched the Enter! project in 2009 to promote the social inclusion of young people. The project included a long-term training course which provided 33 youth leaders and youth workers with competences for supporting young people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to access their social rights. The trainees also developed specific projects for young people within their own communities, including capacity building, anti-discrimination in schools, de-ghettoisation initiatives and combating violence.
Learn more at www.coe.int/enter
Question: What can you personally do to reduce poverty in your community?
The Council of Europe is combating poverty by strengthening social cohesion, and preventing and combating social exclusion. The European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees civil and political human rights, is complemented by the European Social Charter (ESC), adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996, which guarantees social and economic human rights. According to Article 30, "Everyone has the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion".
Violation of the right to housing
In 2006, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) lodged a complaint against France (Collective Complaint No. 39/2006), arguing that France had failed to implement the right to housing for all, in particular for the most vulnerable. The European Committee of Social Rights found France in violation of the right to housing provided for in Article 31 of the Revised European Social Charter.
The Committee based its decision21 on six grounds, including "the poor implementation of existing measures relating to: inadequate housing conditions; preventing evictions; reducing homelessness; providing social housing aimed at the most deprived; social housing allocation; and discrimination against Travellers."22
Rapporteur Luca Volontè reported to the Parliamentary Assembly in 2011 that poverty and social exclusion had increased recently in Council of Europe member states, posing a threat to the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights of a growing number of people and to the social cohesion of European societies. He reminded them that poverty can be eradicated effectively only through the empowerment of the poor.23 Based on this report, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on member states "to make the voice of people living in poverty heard: consider developing new forms of governance and participation to bring together and empower people and communities affected by poverty, and promote social inclusion for all...".24 Agenda 202025, the Council of Europe key document on youth policy, emphasises the importance of access to education, work, decent living conditions, cultural, sporting and creative activities as well as intergenerational dialogue and solidarity as the main vehicles to social inclusion.
1 Comparison based on data from Forbes.com and World Bank data.worldbank.org
2 Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10., 2001 www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/%28Symbol%29/E.C.12.2001.10.En
3 This amount is determined on the basis of "purchasing power parity", which means how much local money is needed to buy the same set of commodities that 1.25 dollars could buy in the US.
4 See Reddy Sanjay G. & Pogge Thomas W., 2005, How Not to Count the Poor , Colombia University, version 6.2.3. 29 October.
5 Based on The European Commission's definition of poverty published in Joint Report on Social Inclusion 2004.
6 Sethi Dinesh et al., European Report on Child Injury Prevention, 2009, www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/83757/E92049.pdf
7 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, HR/PUB/06/12
8 Narayan Deepa et al., Crying Out for Change, Voices of the Poor Volume II, 2000, World Bank, p 34; http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPOVERTY/Resources/335642-1124115102975/1555199-1124115201387/cry.pdf
9 Knight Lindsay (ed.) World Disasters Report, 2011, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/89755/Photos/307000-WDR-2011-FINAL-email-1.pdf
10 Based on Eurostat data
11 Huth Gergely, Pintér Sándor: Nem ismerek tabutémát, Magyar Hírlap Online, 27 July 2010 (in Hungarian) www.magyarhirlap.hu/interju/pinter_sandor_nem_ismerek_tabutemat.html
12 Crying Out for Change, see above, p 236
13 Crying Out for Change, see above, p 152
14 Can Anyone Hear Us?, see above, p 6
16 Sengupta Arjun, The Right to Development, Report of the Independent Expert on the Right to Development www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/78e0cb0e6e6ea624c1256961004f7a98/$FILE/G0015327.pdf
17 Keeping the promise: united to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, 2010, UN General Assembly Resolution; www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/pdf/outcome_documentN1051260.pdf
18 Eurostat http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/income_social_inclusion_living_conditions/data/main_tables
19 Policy Paper on Young People and Poverty, European Youth Forum, 2010;
20 Survey among young people aged between 15-30 in the European Union – Summary, Flash EB No 202, 2007, http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_202_sum_en.pdf
21 Resolution CM/ResChS(2008)8 of the Committee of Ministers, https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=CM/ResChS%282008%298&Language=lanEnglish&Ver=original&Site=CM&BackColorInternet=C3C3C3&BackColorIntranet=EDB021&BackColorLogged=F5D383
22 Housing Rights: Breakthrough ruling by the Council of Europe, Press Release, 5 June 2008, FEANTSA, www.feantsa.org/files/housing_rights/Instruments_and_mechanisms_relating_to_the_right_to_housing/Collective%20complaints/2008June_PR_FEANTSAvsFrance.pdf
23 Volontè Luca, Combating poverty, Doc. 12555; http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc11/EDOC12555.htm#P18_58
24 Combating poverty, Resolution 1800 (2011) of the Parliamentary Assembly
http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta11/ERES1800.htm http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta11/ERES1800.htm - P7_33
25 The future of the Council of Europe youth policy: AGENDA 2020, Declaration of the 8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth, 2008; www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/IG_Coop/Min_Conferences/2008_Kyiv_CEMRY_Declaration_en.pdf
- 17 OctoberInternational Day for the Eradication of Poverty
- 5 DecemberInternational Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development