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EP intergroup discussion on anti-poverty policy: points of learning for equality bodies

October 23rd 2012
On the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Intergroup "Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Fourth World committee" held a public meeting in the European Parliament on 17th October 2012.
17 October 2012 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. On that day, the European Parliament Intergroup "Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Fourth World Committee" organised a public meeting concerning anti-poverty policies. Although poverty is not included in the mandate of most Equality Bodies, the insights from the meeting can easily be taken into account when informing policy on other grounds of discrimination.

The keynote speaker, Professor Abhijit Banerjee [1] focused on the importance of ensuring the involvement of people experiencing poverty in the policy making process. He stressed that policies should never be based on preconceived assumptions about the poor. Instead, it should be recognized that policy makers (and other experts) enjoy a position of privilege in comparison to the people living in extreme poverty and their judgement comes from a particular perspective that is not shared by the poor. We should therefore listen to the voices of the poor and have the humility to pose questions when drafting solutions to their problems. Top-down approaches have proved to fail or to be highly inefficient. Moreover, paternalistic policy making ignores the diversity of the poor (or LGBT, women, migrants etc), as the policies empower only some segments of the marginalized groups and not others. As noted in the Equinet opinion on the links between povety and discrimination (more on that below), equality bodies are in the best position to encourage policy makers to address the diversity of marginalized groups in policy programmes.

Another speaker at the intergroup meeting - Diana Skelton [2] expressed her regret that the knowledge and intelligence of the extremely poor are often ignored. The poor are perceived to be passive beneficiaries of aid and not considered a resource. But people experiencing poverty (as well as people from other marginalized groups) have the potential to become the source of future economic and social growth. However, the challenges of participatory approaches should be accounted for – the participants should be respected and encouraged in the process, as in spite of possessing the expertise they often lack the confidence to express themselves.

- Find more information and the programme of the event

Equinet poverty perspective cover  (Click to enlarge picture) The insights from the meeting are closely related to the aforementioned Equinet perspective, entitled “Addressing Poverty and Discrimination: Two Sides of the One Coin”. The publication included a list of initiatives that equality bodies could take in order to engage with the challenge posed by the discrimination/poverty link. The opinion called for more visibility of poverty and socio-economic status in the work of equality bodies. But to be able to encompass poverty issues in their work, equality bodies would first need to raise staff awareness and capacity in dealing with the matter. The lack of knowledge on the barriers that poverty poses to access to justice can be tackled by developing processes of mutual education. Equality bodies could share information on rights under equal treatment legislation and people living in poverty could share their experience of discrimination and poverty. This kind of collaborative learning would bring the double benefit of reduced under-reporting by marginalized groups and a more informed and democratic policy-making process.

- The exhaustive list of initiatives and other information can be found in the full report.

[1co-author (with Esther Duflo) of “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” - winner of the Financial Times Business Book of the Year 2011, Professor of Economics at MIT

[2Deputy Director General of ATD Quart Monde International