ATD Delegation Meets With EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
In February 2023 an ATD Fourth World delegation that included ATD activists with lived experience of poverty met in Vienna, Austria, with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). This meeting included the FRA director Michael O’Flaherty. The ATD delegation came from four European countries; Belgium, Bulgaria, France, and Ireland.
The meeting with the FRA had several goals: to create a working relationship with a European agency in the field of fundamental rights, to explore ways to create a future partnership, and to request a study on socio-economic discrimination1 and institutional abuse.
The ATD delegation spent a week together to prepare meeting with the FRA. When they met with the FRA, the delegation gave a presentation based on their real-life experiences of socio-economic discrimination and institutional abuse. This included the causes and consequences of these two issues and how they affect the lives of those living in extreme poverty. A few key examples from the activists’ presentation stands out:
Pepi, Bulgaria – Legal existence:
“In our country, there is a problem with street addresses and because of that, with identity cards. To get an identity card, you need to have an address. I live and I have always lived in a place where the accommodations are not legal, but they have been there a very long time. One day at six in the morning, I woke up to the police in my face and the sound of machines demolishing buildings. At that moment, all you can do is save your children and your identification documents. The mayor was there and told us we would be placed in a crisis centre that accommodates people for three to six months. Some of us have been living there now for three or four years! After the buildings were demolished, the address didn’t exist any more. That’s when the real problems started. Without an address, you can’t enrol your children in school. When I take my children to school, I often have to collect them from the police station because they don’t have an ID card [so they often get arrested]. But I can’t prove they are my children because I don’t have an ID card. I’ve been stopped by authorities too. But because I didn’t have an address, I didn’t have an ID card. The address where I lived doesn’t exist now, but even so, I still get electricity and water bills. When you don’t have an ID card, you can’t find a job, enrol your children at school, get any help from the state, go to the doctor’s, etc., and you have no fundamental rights.
Lorraine, Ireland – Discrimination in accessing healthcare:
“A friend of mine had fallen into a diabetic coma and was taken to hospital; the doctors and nurses did not help her until the social worker intervened. They assumed her condition was due to taking drugs, even though it wasn’t the case. That made her feel powerless and judged, and she felt that her fundamental rights had been taken away. The healthcare system must stop judging people. She was left alone in a room; nobody came to see her. She felt humiliated. My friend felt that nobody believed her, and she felt ashamed.”
Odile, France – Causes of socio-economic discrimination:
“It impacts your health. The institutions don’t listen to you; they treat you differently, so you don’t receive the proper care (…). In social housing, they discriminate against you because they see you differently (…). That also makes you feel down. You feel abandoned and trapped. When they have abused you all your life, you can’t move forward, and you don’t have the strength or the inclination to change things and escape poverty. (…) How can you escape poverty when you’re unhealthy and they have stolen your strength? When I talk about it with my doctor, he gives me medication for depression, but it doesn’t solve the problem. I have this problem because of trauma, and it has not been treated.”
European Anti-Poverty Network
During the week of preparations, a meeting took place between the ATD delegation, and the Austrian European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN). The ATD delegation and EAPN discussed the issue of socio-economic discrimination as well as the EAPN’s initiatives, approach, values, and mindset. EAPN’s work is comparable to ATD’s and both organizations share the same goals. EAPN focus on the notion of “classism”, closely related to the term “povertyism” and socio-economic discrimination; terms used by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The week of preparations showed that human rights violations happen all over Europe and indeed the world.
Meeting with the FRA
The meeting with the FRA started with a short presentation by the ATD delegation on the consequences and causes of socio-economic discrimination faced by people living in extreme poverty. Then the FRA’s director and its experts gave feedback.
The FRA director said that he was aware of the situations described by the ATD Fourth World activists. He added that they never ceased to shock him. He brought up the term “disempowering” – loss of power that was talked about in the presentation, which he “fully acknowledges and accepts” as an issue for people in poverty. When he was a young lawyer, Mr O’Flaherty witnessed this type of discrimination. He said: “When I was training to become a lawyer, the older partners advised us that if some people dressed in a certain way and they didn’t seem able to pay the fees, you should put their file at the bottom of the pile, and hopefully delay having to deal with them”. At the end of his speech, he expressed his wish that ATD consider the FRA an ally. The ATD delegation welcomed this wholeheartedly.
The FRA’s presentation of its activities followed. This included research on “poverty and social rights”. The presentation emphasised the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan objective: to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and/or social exclusion by 15 million. The central idea of FRA’s research over the last several years to target persons living in extreme poverty. In the FRA research questionnaire is the question “Do you have financial difficulties at the end of the month?” With this research, the FRA can demonstrate that groups with these challenges are subjected to discrimination more frequently than other groups.
Chance for exchange
After the FRA presentation there was an opportunity for discussion. This helped the ATD delegation to understand the FRA’s limits; mainly of a financial nature. This prevents the FRA from doing research on a large targeted population size. For example persons suffering from socio-economic discrimination, i.e. those living in extreme poverty. Despite this, the FRA says it is already working on issues relating to poverty across more specific populations that are easier to determine, such as women, the LGBTQ+ community or the Roma community. The FRA has research results that ATD will be able to use. They added that they will continue to be attentive to indicators that signal socio-economic discrimination or institutional abuse.
The FRA suggested that ATD participate in activities related to the European Pillar of Social Rights. The FRA also recommended appealing to national governments to hold them accountable.
So as to strengthen the ties between FRA and France, ATD had the opportunity to meet the French Ambassador to Austria, Gilles Pécout. He offered ATD support so as to fortify its relationship to the FRA. He is in contact with the FRA. During the meeting, the Ambassador listened to real-life examples from ATD activists of socio-economic discrimination. He emphasised the importance of the work that ATD is doing. He expressed his desire to help ATD in its work in Austria and elsewhere, where possible.
The interactions with the EAPN, FRA, and the French Ambassador to Austria allows ATD to build solid partnerships with these organizations. This will enable ATD to work on issues relating to socio-economic discrimination and more generally, on extreme poverty.