Photo of a father and a child running in the park
18 Feb 2020

ENNHRI hosts a webinar on a human rights-based approach to poverty

On 12 February, ENNHRI hosted a webinar on a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction and measurement led by Olivier De Schutter, Professor at Université catholique de Louvain and Sciences Po and Member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The webinar is a follow-up to ENNHRI Guide for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) on “Applying a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Poverty Reduction and Measurement”. It explored seven key principles outlined in the Guide, while analysing recommendations for NHRIs’ work. Watch the webinar recording below.

Q&A session

On discrimination on the ground of poverty & social condition

The discrimination on the ground of social condition as enshrined in the UN CESCR is a very much understudied issue. Inspiration can be found in the campaign ‘Poverty to Solutions’, launched in 2016 in the UK. The campaign was a reaction to the non-inclusion of the discrimination ground ‘social-economic duty’ in the UK Equality Act. This led to Scottish legislation requiring a poverty impact assessment before any new policy or legislation is adopted to avoid any regressive consequences on the lives of people living in poverty.

One example of this assessment was a situation when a hospital was to be moved from the city centre to its outskirts, which would prevent people living in poverty from accessing it. The authorities moved the hospital but kept a primary health care centre in the city centre to ensure that people living in poverty have access to healthcare.

On data on ethnicity relying on self-identification

The Council of Europe Advisory Committee on National Minorities in its Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities sets forth that the principle of self-identification implies that belonging to a national minority should be a matter of a person’s individual choice and that no disadvantage should arise from such a choice.

On measuring the poverty of older persons

Older persons often experience economic and social rights violations such as low pensions and increasing costs of living. They are particularly at risk in a society where online tools are vital to access services and benefits. The exclusion due to their digital illiteracy makes them very vulnerable.

When households’ survey methodology is used to measure poverty, older persons are excluded as they do not feel comfortable opening their homes to strangers or they are often institutionalised. Thus, new creative ways of collecting data about them shall be used.

On measuring homelessness

Homeless people are a heterogeneous group and it is difficult to provide any data about them. If we do not record and document their situation, they are most likely to be ignored by the authorities.

The exchange of practices among NHRIs is particularly relevant here. In Belgium, the Combat Poverty Service has initiated a research project to involve homeless people in the EU-SILC Survey. In 2014 the different governments signed a cooperation agreement to gather factual data on homelesness. Only recently an interfederal working group of the Combat Poverty Service comes together to take initiatives to better map homelessness in Belgium. The Service functions as a data collection point.

Secondly, the German Institute for Human Rights collaborates with a social research institution to develop a human right-based index to poverty measurement. In Germany, a governmental programme to collect data, including on homelessness, was initiated.

On the developments at EU level

After the European debt crisis, the EU significantly revisited its socio-economic governance. The adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights is an important step towards a more social European Semester. The Pillar sets out several key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. This initiative is a promising start and it also creates a unique opportunity for NHRIs.

  • EU FRA’s role (EU Fundamental Rights Agency)

The FRA’s role is guided by the Multiannual framework which shapes its agenda. This framework is decided at the EU political level and limits FRA’s ability to work on poverty (with the exception of children’s poverty). FRA is currently pushing to abandon this unnecessary restriction in the context of the revision of its funding regulation, so that the Agency can address poverty matters and have a more balanced approach to all human rights.

  • EU-SILC (EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions)

EU-SILC Survey refers to wellbeing and quality of life, and constitutes the most exhaustive collection of information at the EU level about poverty. However, it remains insufficient when it comes to multidimensional and HRBA measurement of poverty and its household survey methodology, which leaves out particularly vulnerable parts of the population. 

On EU definition of poverty

It is crucial to move beyond the income-based definition of poverty. When measuring poverty, the income criteria used are relevant to afford indispensable items for a decent life (such as housing, education, food, healthcare). Although the population in European countries benefited greatly from recent economic growth, some prices increased enormously (notably on housing) and this situation forces the most vulnerable part of the population to cut on other items, for instance (quality) food.

If we want to see poverty in its multidimensionality and beyond the monetary definition, we need to involve people living in poverty into designing policies and legislation. Then we can understand their situation better and consider elements contributing to poverty which are beyond people’s income (such as the importance of access to energy, SDG 7). The Combat Poverty Service has worked with people living in poverty to translate SDGs to the local situation, based on people’s own experience.

On fighting poverty at the local level

Recently the mayors of Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Warsaw signed Free Cities Pact to work together on climate change, housing and social policy, and to promote democratic ideals, human rights, and the rule of law. Given the central role of local authorities in making economic and social rights a reality for people locally, the cities can focus more on education, healthcare, housing, and protect people in poverty.

It is crucial to use the human rights framework in the fight against poverty at the local level, in order to rebalance the relationship between state authorities and beneficiaries of the state aid. This enables the switch from the unilateral charity to people in need to a dynamic between right holders and duty bearers. This dynamic is much more empowering and can help remove stigmatisation and shame often linked to social benefits, while also allowing discrimination or arbitrariness to be more easily identified and monitored by independent bodies.

» Download webinar audio recording
» Download the NHRI Guide on ‘Applying a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Poverty Reduction and Measurement’
» Learn more about ENNHRI’s work on economic and social rights