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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty Monday, 17 October 2011

Austerity measures are exacerbating the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots,’ warns UN poverty expert

GENEVA (17 October 2011) – The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, called on States to address without delay the growing inequalities between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ “In several countries,” she warned, “disparities created by the crisis have been exacerbated by austerity measures put in place to facilitate recovery.”

“These rising inequalities have diminished social cohesion and increased insecurity and exclusion throughout the world,” the Special Rapporteur said on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. “Should these inequalities persevere, the result could be increasing social unrest and conflict, such as that seen over recent months.”

“While States are going ‘back to business’ on the presumption of a ‘post crisis’ recovery, the financial and economic crises are still very much in full swing for those living in poverty,” Ms. Sepúlveda said. “At the current rate, it will take more than 800 years for the bottom billion of the world population to achieve 10 per cent of global income.”

According to the UN expert, it is now clear that the poorest and most excluded bore the brunt of the crises, while the incomes of the richest segments of society continue to soar in many of the countries most affected by the crises.

For example, in the US, the poor continue to grow in number, with six million people falling into poverty since 2008 and one in seven Americans now living below the poverty line, more than at any time in the past 50 years.

“The twisted irony is that those who have benefited most from past economic growth and development have been those who were already better off, and those who have suffered the harshest effects of the cumulative crises have been the poorest and the marginalized in all societies, including single-parent families, older persons, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and migrants,” the poverty expert noted.

“Recovery measures must look beyond growth. The September 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit outcome gave renewed emphasis to the goal of sustainable, inclusive and equitable growth,” stressed Ms. Sepúlveda. “What is required are recovery measures that are equitable, accompanied by human rights safeguards and designed from the ground up, taking into consideration the specific needs of vulnerable populations.”

States may benefit from the experience of the few countries that have narrowed the gap between the incomes of the poorest and wealthiest groups over the last decade. “Progressive taxation, social protection programmes and minimum wage legislation have all been proven effective in alleviating poverty while tackling inequalities,” the Special Rapporteur recalled on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since May 2008. She is independent from any government or organization.

Next week, Ms. Sepúlveda will present a report to the General Assembly’s 66th Session on the penalization of people living in poverty: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Independent Expert: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact: Lidia Rabinovich or Yoonie Kim (Tel: +41 22 917 9763 / 9643 email: srextremepoverty@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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