Poverty deep­ens un­der Trump gov­ern­ment – UN

Sunday Tribune - - SECTORAL FOCUS -

GENEVA: Poverty is ex­ten­sive and deep­en­ing in the US un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose poli­cies seem aimed at re­mov­ing the safety net from mil­lions of poor while re­ward­ing the rich, a UN hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tor has found.

Philip Al­ston, UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­treme poverty, has called on Amer­i­can author­i­ties to pro­vide solid so­cial pro­tec­tion and ad­dress un­der­ly­ing prob­lems, rather than “pun­ish and im­prison the poor”.

While wel­fare ben­e­fits and ac­cess to health in­sur­ance are be­ing slashed, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tax re­form has awarded “fi­nan­cial wind­falls” to the mega-rich and large com­pa­nies, fur­ther in­creas­ing inequal­ity, he said in a re­port.

US poli­cies since Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son’s war on poverty in the 1960s have been “ne­glect­ful at best”, he said.

“But the 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 a priv­i­lege to be earned rather than a right of cit­i­zen­ship,” Al­ston said.

Al­most 41 mil­lion peo­ple live in poverty, 18.5 mil­lion of them in ex­treme poverty, and chil­dren ac­count for one in three poor, he said. The US has the high­est youth poverty rate among in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, he added.

“Its cit­i­zens live shorter and sicker lives com­pared to those liv­ing in all other rich democ­ra­cies, erad­i­ca­ble trop­i­cal dis­eases are in­creas­ingly preva­lent and it has the world’s high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rate… and the high­est obe­sity lev­els in the de­vel­oped world,” Al­ston said.

How­ever, the data from the US Cen­sus Bureau he cited cov­ers only the pe­riod to 2016 and he gave no com­par­a­tive fig­ures on the ex­tent of poverty be­fore and af­ter Trump came into of­fice in Jan­uary 2017.

The Aus­tralian, a vet­eran UN rights ex­pert and New York Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor, will present his re­port to the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil this month.

It is based on his mis­sion in De­cem­ber to sev­eral US states, in­clud­ing ru­ral Alabama, a slum in down­town Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, and the US ter­ri­tory of Puerto Rico.

US of­fi­cials in Geneva, Switzer­land, were not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

Cit­ing “shame­ful statistics” linked to en­trenched racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, Al­ston said that African Amer­i­cans were

2.5 times more likely than whites to live in poverty and their un­em­ploy­ment rate was more than dou­ble. Women, His­pan­ics, im­mi­grants and in­dige­nous peo­ple also suf­fered high rates.

At least 550 000 peo­ple were home­less in Amer­ica, he said. “The tax re­form will worsen this sit­u­a­tion and en­sure that the US re­mains the most un­equal so­ci­ety in the de­vel­oped world,” Al­ston said. “The planned dra­matic cuts in wel­fare will es­sen­tially shred cru­cial di­men­sions of a safety net that is al­ready full of holes.”

The tax over­haul, which sailed through the Repub­li­can­con­trolled US Congress in De­cem­ber, per­ma­nently cut the top cor­po­rate rate to 21% from 35%. Tax cuts for in­di­vid­u­als, how­ever, are tem­po­rary and ex­pire af­ter 2025.

Trump has said they would lead to more take-home pay for work­ers and touted bonuses some work­ers re­ceived from their em­ploy­ers as ev­i­dence the law was work­ing.

Al­ston dis­missed al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread fraud in the wel­fare sys­tem and crit­i­cised the US crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. It sets large bail bonds for a de­fen­dant seek­ing to go free pend­ing trial, which meant wealthy sus­pects could af­ford bail while the poor re­mained in cus­tody, of­ten los­ing their jobs, he said.

“There is no magic recipe for elim­i­nat­ing ex­treme poverty and each level of gov­ern­ment must make its own good-faith de­ci­sions. At the end of the day, how­ever, par­tic­u­larly in a rich coun­try like the US, the per­sis­tence of ex­treme poverty is a po­lit­i­cal choice made by those in power,” he said. – Reuters

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