USA: UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights highlights impacts of privatization & new technology on inequality

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16 June 2018

UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights releases report on mission to USA finding significant income inequality

Author: Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights

"Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to the United States of America," 4 May 2018

... [The United States'] immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live. About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies... and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate... The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality... [T]he Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks it 18th out of 21 wealthy countries in terms of labour markets, poverty rates, safety nets, wealth inequality and economic mobility. But in 2018 the United States had over 25 per cent of the world’s 2,208 billionaires.

... The visit of the Special Rapporteur coincided with the dramatic change of direction in relevant United States policies. The new policies: (a) provide unprecedentedly high tax breaks and financial windfalls to the very wealthy and the largest corporations; (b) pay for these partly by reducing welfare benefits for the poor; (c) undertake a radical programme of financial, environmental, health and safety deregulation that eliminates protections mainly benefiting the middle classes and the poor;... [and] (h) make no effort to tackle the structural racism that keeps a large percentage of non-Whites in poverty and near poverty.

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15 June 2018

Interview: United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston explains findings re poverty in USA, inc. implications for civil & political rights

Author: Amy Goodman, Democracy Now

"Blistering U.N. Report: Trump Administration’s Policies Designed to Worsen Poverty & Inequality," 15 June 2018

The report states, “[T]he policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”... [According to Philip Alston]... "[The current administration]... is singling out all of the major benefit programs and seeking to attach very harsh work requirements to it. We’re all in favor of people having to work, but in the vast majority of cases, people are already working, and they can’t survive... [t]he other thing that my report looks at, which is equally important, is the threat to democracy, of course, that if you consistently make life less manageable for those who are living in poverty, if you start to cut back on those who are able to vote, if you start... making it feasible for the state to eliminate lots of voters—all of these affect, overwhelmingly, those who are not wealthy. And that presents—that means that the assault, in economic terms, represents a major threat to the democracy. So, my report focuses then on the implications of this for what we call civil and political rights in the United States."

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15 December 2017

Trump turning US into 'world champion of extreme inequality', UN envoy warns

Author: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian (US)

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has completed a two-week official tour of the US... [He] warns that the tax bill currently being rushed through Congress will hugely increase already large disparities between rich and poor, he accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a “bid to become the most unequal society in the world”... "[T] oday’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”

[According to Alston,]... “The US is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation. But denial does not eliminate responsibility or negate obligations... The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion since the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries.”

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15 December 2017

Statement on visit to the USA

Author: Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty & human rights

I have spent the past two weeks visiting the [US]... to look at whether the persistence of extreme poverty in America undermines the enjoyment of human rights... The [US] is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.

...Proposals to slash the meager welfare arrangements that currently exist are now sold primarily on the basis that the poor need to get off welfare and back to work. The assumption is that there are a great many jobs out there waiting to be filled by individuals with low educational standards, often suffering disabilities of one kind or another, sometimes burdened with a criminal record..., and with no training or meaningful assistance to obtain employment... Factors such as automation and new technologies such as self-driving cars, 3D printers, and robot-staffed factories and warehouses will see a continuing decline in demand for low-skilled labor.

.. Testimony also revealed an urgent need for data collection on poverty in all indigenous communities, greater access to healthcare, and stronger protection from private and corporate abuse. The Red Water Pond Navajo tribe spoke about predatory loans involving 400% interest rates... Revelations of widespread tax avoidance by companies and high-wealth individuals draw no rebuke, only acquiescence and the maintenance of the loopholes and other arrangements designed to facilitate such arrangements.

... Solutions to major social challenges in the US are increasingly seen to lie with privatization. While the firms concerned have profited handsomely, it is far from clear that optimum outcomes have been achieved for the relevant client populations... [G]reater consideration needs to be given to the role of corporations in preventing rational policy-making and advocating against reforms in order to maintain their profits at the expense of the poorest members of society… [such as] corporations running private for-profit prisons... There are clear benefits to the rapid development of new information technology… but the risks are also increasingly clear. Much more attention needs to be given to the ways in which new technology impacts the human rights of the poorest Americans.

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