Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights strongly opposes austerity measures being taken by several governments.
In an interview with the London-based Guardian newspaper, she argues that austerity policies all over the world are having a disproportionate impact on the poor and are undermining the human rights of vulnerable people. “The responses of governments that we have seen worldwide to confront the crisis through these fiscal cuts or austerity measures affect human rights in several ways. Most of the countries have decreased spending in social protection and they have eroded the social welfare systems. The cuts in welfare benefits have an enormous, disproportionate impact on the poor.”
World Social Work Day – 19 March 2013
Promoting social and economic equality is one of the four priorities of The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. This is also the theme for World Social Work Day which takes place on Tuesday 19th March 2013. Information about events being organised by social workers around the world is already coming in to the IFSW Secretariat. There will also be meetings organised jointly with our global partners at the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
Stigmatisation of the poor is everywhere
Ms Sepúlveda is very critical of the toxic public discourse that berates and patronises those living in poverty. The skivers versus strivers rhetoric is not unique to the UK, Sepúlveda says. Stigmatisation of the poor has become normal everywhere. “I’m obsessed with this [issue]. Everywhere I go, I hear the same [thing]. The discourse that you see in the media in the UK, like the [idea of] scroungers … you hear it over and over again, everywhere, by policymakers and by the elites.”
The reality is “just the contrary”, she says. “What happens is that [the poor] have so many obstacles [to improving their situation]. What is important is to really fight these prejudices that are so entrenched in those who are better off [and] which are contaminating public policy. Policymakers are making policies on the basis of negative stereotypes that are not true.”
Prominent people are beginning to question austerity on the international stage. Sepúlveda’s fellow UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, recently attacked the impact of austerity on people’s ability to feed themselves. Last month the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, voiced reservations about the austerity strategy.
According to Sepúlveda, one of the most impressive developments in international human rights in the past couple of decades has been the acceptance of the “interconnection” between civil liberties and other “economic, cultural and social” rights. Significantly, this has become enshrined in UN treaties and domestic law.
Magdalena Sepúlveda Is an international human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at the UN Research Institute on Social Development. She was appointed Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty by the Human Rights Council in March 2008 and assumed her functions on 1 May of that year. In June 2011 the Human Rights Council extended the mandate on extreme poverty and human rights, and changed its title to Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Read the interview here.
Visit the website of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights here
Read comments by Olivier Blanchard (IMF) about the austerity strategy here.
Find out more about The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development