Poverty and Inequality – The paradox of Democracies

On February 21-22 Social Platform participated in a conference on Poverty and Inequality in Societies of Human Rights – the paradox of democracies at the Council of Europe. Several of our members were invited speakers at the conference including; FEANTSA, ATD-Quart Monde, Caritas Europa, Solidar and EAPN. There was a diversity of participants at the conference, including people with personal experiences of poverty and inequalities. The link between poverty, inequalities and human rights – which was the topic of the conference – was unfortunately less visible within the presentations and discussions. Read our selected highlights from the conference:

Opening speakers:

Gilda Farell, Council of Europe – ‘the concentration of wealth has reached a level such a level that social cohesion risks losing all its meaning’; Ms Farell spoke about how conventional tools to fight poverty are inadequate; replacing the principle of universality by targeting only the groups entitled to welfare can lead to stigmatization- soon we may have to target 50 percentage of the population. Everyone has a role to play to de-stigmatize combating poverty policies.

Emma Toledano, the European Commission – ‘it is difficult to build and maintain European solidarity nowadays…’; Ms Toledano pointed out that statistics go in opposite directions from the Commissions strategy of lifting people out of poverty and how the younger generation pays the price of the crisis and it is no longer sufficient to have a job to avoid poverty. Panelists:

  • Guy Standing, University of Bath, UK – ‘every new equality march is about three struggles: recognition, representation & redistribution – we are way behind’; Mr. Guy spoke about how ‘The Precariat’ experience insecure labour and have no access to services and benefits.
  • Peter Kenway, New Policy Institute, UK – ‘poverty is never about ‘us’ -it is always about someone else -we are a part of inequality that needs to be reduced’
  • Magdalena Sepulveda, UN Rapporteur – ‘a HR-approach to poverty is a crucial tool to combat stigma & prejudice against the poor’; Ms Sepulveda highlighted stigma and prejudice against the poor as threats to dignity and human rightss. People living in poverty need recognition as right holders and agents of change with freedom to express their views and make their own choices. We must combat the systemic exclusion of people living in poverty– it’s not about morality but it’s a legal obligation.
  • Johanna Gerds, Consultant to the CofE, DE – ‘ECHR is limited & fragmented in its approach to poverty & refers to the Social Charter -we need consistency!’; Mr Gerds explained how the ECHR is limited in addressing poverty because it focuses on civil and political rights; poverty is reserved to the Social Charter in the original text. Also there are exceptions & conditionalities for migrants, stateless & homeless which contradicts the universality of human rights – is it only for the ‘deserving poor’?
  • Renzo Segala, Avvocato di Strada, IT – ‘simply providing a fictitious address gives homeless people access to their rights’; Mr Segala, working for ‘lawyers on the street’ spoke about how people without a home and an address are deprived of their rights and how even a ‘fictitious address’ can help (even if actual adequate housing for all is a long-term aim).
  • Louise Haagh, Basic Income Earth Network, University of York, UK -‘basic income is a principle of shared economic security which mutually reinforces other and new rights’; Ms Haagh stressed the need for setting targets for human development spending and a cap on fees such as for education.
  • Jacob Von Uexkull, World Future Council, SE – ‘the Declaration of Human Duties and Responsibilities, UNESCO in 1998 was never brought to a vote and was forgotten’; Mr Von Uexkull asked the interesting question why not call for a maximum income when asking for a minimum one?
  • James S Henry, Tax Justice Network, US – ‘there is 9.4 trillion USD offshore wealth in the world’; Mr Henry spoke about the reasons for growing tax havens and its consequences on growing inequalities. Apple, Google, Starbucks use tax havens to avoid corporate tax responsibility.
  • Jean Lambert, MEP – ‘now is the time to discuss values, resources, waste of goods & ‘brain’, innovation for inclusion & reinvent democracy’
  • Isabelle Perrin, ATD Quart Monde – ‘can we rethink environmental sustainability together with the ones that recycle what we throw out?’
  • Fintan Farrell, EAPN – ‘we need social policy that respects social knowledge (participation of people with direct experience & NGOs)’

Read more about the conference on the Council of Europe’s website