The global COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more than 250 million people to the brink of starvation and dashed hopes of
eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, a UN expert says in a report
The report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council today by Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme
poverty and human rights, was prepared by his predecessor Philip Alston. It criticises the way governments have banked
on economic growth to lift people out of poverty. It says the UN’s 2030 Agenda to eradicate poverty through Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) relies too much on a poverty line set so low by the World Bank that it allows governments to
claim progress where there is none.
The report states that the pandemic will push 176 million more people into extreme poverty, compounding long-standing
neglect of low-income people, including women, migrant workers and refugees. The international community’s abysmal
record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life far precede this pandemic, the report says.
“Many world leaders, economists, and pundits have enthusiastically promoted a self-congratulatory message, proclaiming
progress against poverty to be one of the greatest human achievements of our time,” the report says. “The reality is
that billions face few opportunities, countless indignities, unnecessary hunger and preventable death, and do not enjoy
basic human rights.”
“In too many cases, the promised benefits of growth either don’t materialise or aren’t shared,” the report says. “The
global economy has doubled since the end of the Cold War, yet half the world lives under $5.50 a day, primarily because
the benefits of growth have largely gone to the wealthiest.”
The world needs new strategies, genuine mobilisation, empowerment and accountability “to avoid sleepwalking towards
assured failure while pumping out endless bland reports”, the report says. Tax justice is key to ensure governments have
the money needed for social protection: in 2015, multinationals shifted an estimated 40 percent of their profits to tax
havens, while global corporate tax rates have fallen from an average of 40.38 percent in 1980 to 24.18 percent in 2019.
De Schutter also called for establishment of a social protection fund to help countries give the poorest basic social
“Growth alone, without far more robust redistribution of wealth, would fail to effectively tackle poverty,” said De
Schutter. ”Based on historic growth rates, it would take 200 years to eradicate poverty under a $5 a day line and would
require a 173-fold increase in global GDP.” That, he added, is “an entirely unrealistic prospect, not least since it
does not take into account the environmental degradation associated to the economic growth, or the impacts of climate
change on poverty itself”.
“I welcome this report, which illustrates that poverty is not a matter only of low incomes,” said De Schutter. “It’s a
matter of disempowerment, of institutional and social abuse, and of discrimination. It is the price we pay for societies
that exclude people whose contributions are not recognised. Eradicating poverty means building inclusive societies that
shift from a charity approach to a rights-based empowering approach.”
De Schutter will also present the reports of his predecessor’s visits to Malaysia