A new report has been submitted by Philip Alston, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Alston warns that states and global organisations are “completely off track” to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.
In what was Alston’s final report, he remarks that the world is at an existential crossroads involving a pandemic, a deep economic recession, devastating climate change, extreme inequality, and an uprising against racist policies. Running through all of these challenges is the longstanding neglect of extreme poverty by many governments, economists, and human rights advocates.
Alston notes that while the Sustainable Development Goals have achieved a great deal, they are failing in relation to key goals such as poverty eradication, economic equality, gender equality, and climate change. He suggests that the goals need to be recalibrated in response to COVID-19, the ensuing recession, and accelerating global warming. Alston warns that: “By single-mindedly focusing on the World Bank’s flawed international poverty line, the international community mistakenly gauges progress in eliminating poverty by reference to a standard of miserable subsistence rather than an even minimally adequate standard of living. This, in turn, facilitates greatly exaggerated claims about the impending eradication of extreme poverty and downplays the parlous state of impoverishment in which billions of people still subsist”.
One of the key points Alston makes is that poverty is a political choice and that one of the essential tools for eliminating poverty is the implementation of universal social protection, a policy direction which Development Pathways strongly advocates for based on global evidence. There is mounting evidence that suggests that if robust universal social protection systems had been in place prior to COVID-19, then countries would have been better protected from the ensuing economic fallout.
One of the failures of the world’s efforts in addressing poverty is the absence of an essential normative foundation, as many decision-makers at the international level avoid linking policy solutions to the human right to social protection. Alston calls for social protection to be taken seriously, both as a human right and as a genuinely indispensable element of any poverty elimination strategy.
This is not the first report in which Alston has urged governments to address their social protection policies. For example, in his latest visit to the UK, he explained that poverty is causing “misery” in UK, and warned that the next generation’s prospects are already being grievously undermined by the systematic dismantling of social protection policies since 2010.
The reports issued by the Special Rapporteur are intended as a practical tool for policy-makers to ensure that public policies and poverty eradication efforts reach everybody in society. Will governments listen to Alston’s final words of warning?