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Ghana must prioritise social protection to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, says UN poverty expert

GENEVA (18 April 2018) – A UN human rights expert has commended Ghana as a champion of African democracy and a country which has achieved some important development milestones. But says unless growing inequality and continuing high poverty rates are addressed the country will fall far short of meeting the key UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030.

“Ghana is at a crossroads and must now decide whether to continue existing policies that will further enrich the wealthy and do little for the poor, or to make fiscal adjustments that would lift millions out of poverty and bring them into the agricultural economy in ways that would contribute significantly to economic growth,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, at the end of a 10-day fact-finding mission to the Greater Accra, Northern, and Upper East regions.

“The benefits of record levels of economic growth experienced over the past decade have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthy, and inequality is higher than it has ever been in Ghana,” said Mr. Alston, who examines the human rights implications of poverty in countries around the world.

The most recent official data from the Ghana Statistical Service for 2012-2013 revealed that almost one-quarter of the population were living in poverty and one person in every 12 in extreme poverty. Three-and-a-half million of those in poverty are children, with more than a third of them in extreme poverty.

“Spending on social protection is surprisingly low by the standards of most comparable African countries, and very little is spent on social assistance,” explained Mr. Alston.

“With a thriving economy and the option to start collecting some of the existing but unpaid taxes that currently exist, choosing to eliminate, or not to eliminate, extreme poverty is a political choice for Ghana,” the UN expert said.

The Special Rapporteur continued: “Ghanaian politicians are immensely fond of, and very good at, creating slogans to describe complex but appealing programmes.  But there is little doubt that the appetite for such slogans has already far outrun the capacity for realistic implementation.” 

“The challenge going forward is for the Government to choose its real priorities, make sure that social protection is among them, and to be more transparent about potential costs and possible funding sources,” Mr. Alston stressed.

The Special Rapporteur’s final report on his visit to Ghana will be presented to the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.

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Mr. Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014.  As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is 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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Follow the Special Rapporteur on Twitter @Alston_UNSR and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AlstonUNSR
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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.