Webinar Recap: Building an Inclusive Europe
On June 28th, 2023 ATD Fourth World Europe organized a webinar on the theme of socioeconomic discrimination – Building an Inclusive Europe. The panellists were Andrew Kelly and Christina Power (community activists from ATD Fourth World Ireland), Olivier de Schutter (United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights), Claire Hédon (French Defender of Rights), as well as Marie Toussaint (Green Party Member of the European Parliament).
The discussion was moderated by Kahina Rabahi, from the European Anti-Poverty Network, and focused on: the lessons learned from people living in poverty and those fighting against socioeconomic discrimination; the obstacles that hinder the recognition of socioeconomic status as a form of discrimination; the demand for viable solutions beyond the judicial realm, and the need to address socioeconomic discrimination as a systemic issue.
Examples of lived experiences
The webinar started with powerful examples of lived experiences from Mr. Kelly and Ms. Power. They spoke about the reality and systemic nature of socioeconomic discrimination.
The stigmas and shame society inflicts onto people living in poverty are constant and enduring and have multi-dimensional, long-term consequences, which perpetuate intergenerational cycles of poverty.
As a result, it is imperative that the knowledge and experiences of people with a lived experience of poverty are listened to and understood. With their knowledge guiding us, we can more effectively challenge stigmas and break cycles of poverty.
As well as generating psychological suffering, socioeconomic discrimination can be the cause of numerous rights violations or deprivations of fundamental rights such as housing, employment, and education, among others. At the webinar, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Power also shared their actions in the ongoing “Add the 10th” campaign. Its aim being pushing to secure the recognition of socioeconomic status as the tenth ground for discrimination in Irish law.
French Defender of Rights
This reality was then explained by Claire Hédon in the context of her ongoing work on socioeconomic discrimination within the French national framework. The French Defender of Rights office receives testimonies of lived experiences and incorporates them into the recommendations made to public authorities on what needs to be done to prevent further infringements on rights and freedoms. Explaining the “Particulière Vulnérabilité Économique” (Particular Economic Vulnerability) introduced into French Law in 2016, Ms. Hédon highlighted the difficulties in the law’s implementation of such a criterion, as well as the obstacles faced by people in poverty in using it as an efficient tool to assert their fundamental rights.
Several examples of socioeconomic discrimination in France were provided, such as the refusal of care for beneficiaries of social assistance, or the fear of reprisal when advocating for fundamental rights. The inability to claim what one is entitled to, can stem from the fear that doing so will backfire on them (through no fault of their own, but because of social prejudices against people living in poverty). Nonetheless, the legislative tool of the “Particulière Vulnérabilité Économique” law also shows that greater consideration for the intersectional aspects of discrimination1 would allow for a much more efficient fight against all forms of discrimination.
Socioeconomic discrimination in international law
During the webinar, Olivier de Schutter put forward the concept of socioeconomic discrimination in the context of international law. Following his report on “Banning Discrimination on Grounds of Socioeconomic Disadvantage: An Essential Tool in the Fight Against Poverty”, he called on governments to take action against such discrimination. Regulations and public policies must not discriminate directly or indirectly against people living in poverty, and governments need to prevent the development and persistence of povertyism.
It is essential that these violations are addressed, as a multidimensional approach to poverty highlights the role of discrimination and abuse (inflicted by institutions or individual actors) in perpetuating situations of extreme poverty. Mr. de Schutter presented an example of indirect discrimination based on socioeconomic discrimination: Finland was prosecuted in 2019 because access to day nurseries was limited to 20 hours a week for children with one non-working parent, either unemployed or on maternity/paternity leave. As a result, households where both parents are not working, have less access to day nurseries, which — among a plethora of other issues — risks making it more difficult for people who don’t have a job to find one.
In the EU
While the reality of violence resulting from socioeconomic discrimination has already been recognized in several EU Member States, a binding legislative act has yet to be adopted at the European level. On this topic, Marie Toussaint presented the advances made in the European Union. She stated that, as socioeconomic discrimination sometimes takes place at the highest levels of government, cuts to minimum welfare benefits and public services in favour of other priorities continue to be justified and legitimized. There is an urgent need to change the rules of the game and reform European treaties to bring forward the priority of leaving no one behind.
One focus should be on the Parliamentary Intergroup on “fighting against poverty”2: this privileged entry point to the European Parliament must be kept in order for people with lived experience of poverty to draw attention to difficult issues — such as socioeconomic discrimination — in the parliamentary debate, providing knowledge on how to properly tackle these issues, as well as benefiting from assisting members of the parliament.
Listen to people in poverty
It is crucial to ensure that the experiences and thinking of people living in poverty are fully taken into account, associating their voices with researchers in order to keep solidifying knowledge and demonstrating the reality of socioeconomic discrimination.
To move beyond judicial solutions, there is a need to combat discrimination at its cultural and political roots. More than a judicial issue, socioeconomic discrimination is a systemic issue. Olivier de Schutter described how povertyism leads to a situation of segregation that primarily impacts people living in poverty; we live in societies where people living in poverty, and people not living in precarious conditions, frequent different places, go to different schools, have different circles of acquaintances. These social barriers, far from dissolving, have in fact been growing stronger over the last 15-20 years, and this feeds harmful stereotypes about people living in poverty.
In conclusion, ATD Fourth World considers it absolutely essential to prohibit socioeconomic discrimination and to put in place appropriate preventive and punitive measures. However, as the effective application of these measures faces numerous obstacles, it is also essential to ensure that the people concerned have the ability to access and use recourse without fear of reprisal.
ATD Fourth World Europe would like to thank our panellists for participating in this event and we hope to continue advocating together at the international, European, and national levels.
Watch Building an Inclusive Europe: Combating Socioeconomic Discrimination below:
- The intersectional aspect of discrimination means that multiple types of discrimination — including socioeconomic — can apply to one particular situation.
- The European Parliament’s intergroups are informal groups of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from different political groups, which come together to focus on specific issues and policy areas. They are not official Parliament bodies, but are recognized by Parliament. They also facilitate exchanges between Members and civil society.