UN Experts believes ‘Real Equality’ can break the Vicious Cycle of Poverty

Although poverty and privilege “continue to reproduce themselves in vicious cycles,” an independent UN human rights expert told the General Assembly on Wednesday that it is possible to break the cycle and change the paradigm. 

Olivier De Shutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said that “with political will,” it is possible to reverse centuries of entrenched inequality and “move from fate to opportunity” in his study, The Persistence of Poverty: How Real Equality Can Break the Vicious Cycle. 

Mr. De Shutter stated in his statement that investing in early childhood, supporting inclusive education, providing young adults with a basic income funded by inheritance taxes, and countering anti-poor prejudice are crucial ingredients needed to break the cycles of advantage and disadvantage. 

“The truth is that the persistence of privilege at the top, and deprivation at the bottom, are all too commonplace,” the human rights expert said, acknowledging that many countries pride themselves on achieving high levels of social mobility. He stated that the wealthiest 10% of people in OECD countries hold 52% of total net wealth, while the lowest 60% own just over 12%, thus sentencing the poor to a lifetime of poverty. 

According to the report, children in low-income households take four to five generations to reach their country’s mean income, based on statistics from countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It can take up to nine or even more generations in developing countries like Brazil, Colombia, or South Africa. 

The Special Rapporteur studied the routes through which poverty is perpetuated in the areas of health, housing, education, and work, after seeing that children born into impoverished homes were denied equal opportunity. 

The Rapporteur described the results as “appalling,” adding that children born into a poor home are more than three times as likely to be poor at the age of 30 as those who were never poor. 

Child poverty is not only “morally unconscionable and a human rights violation,” but it is also costly, according to the UN rights expert.  According to him, child poverty costs the United States approximately one trillion dollars per year, or 5.4 % of GDP, while every dollar spent on lowering it saves seven dollars. 

Mr. De Shutter, who is calling for an end to the idea that inequality motivates people to work more, claims that the facts show the exact opposite. 

Mr. De Shutter urged governments to act now, “before another generation is condemned to the same fate as their parents,” noting that “no child should be penalized for being born in poverty” and that “poverty is a failure not of the individual, but of society”. 

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