Report on ‘Poverty, inequality and human rights’

‘Poverty, inequality and human rights’ by Alice Donald and Elizabeth Mottershaw was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on 3 September 2009.

The research examines how human rights have been used internationally to shape new conceptions of poverty and new approaches to combating it, and assesses the lessons for the UK.

Key points include:

  • In both wealthy and low-income countries, people working to combat poverty have used human rights to: reframe conceptions of poverty and challenge stereotypes of people affected by it; to mobilise alliances between disparate groups around anti-poverty goals; and to hold governments accountable for poverty inside and outside the courtroom.
  • Communities affected by poverty that have asserted their right to participate in decision-making have generated practical and cost-effective policy solutions.
  • Legal enforcement of socio-economic, civil and political rights has reduced poverty in some circumstances.
  • Governmental use of human rights is episodic but has brought benefits. Some governments have used human rights to bring coherence to – and permit prioritisation within – anti-poverty strategies and to set transparent targets.
  • Within the UK human rights and anti-poverty communities, some think that introducing socio-economic rights more visibly into UK public debate – and building the role of civil and political rights as an anti-poverty tool – may help shift negative perceptions of both human rights and poverty. However, some see human rights as politically ineffective.

The authors conclude that now is the right time to explore ways of strengthening the integration of human rights and anti-poverty strategies in the UK, especially where there is evidence of positive impact internationally. There is also potential to explore how human rights could be used to challenge regressive welfare reform and notions of personal responsibility that underpin it, as activists have done in the United States.

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