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Social Justice

Covid-19 protections for people in poverty are 'full of holes', says UN

The poverty expert said the worst is still to come for people struggling to get by if governments don't act now

The UN’s independent expert on extreme poverty has blasted global government attempts to support people on low incomes during the pandemic as “maladapted and inattentive to the realities of people in poverty”.

In a report published today Olivier De Schutter said that despite governments implementing 1,400 social protection measures since the Covid-19 outbreak, world leaders must do more to help poorer people.

He pointed to a decade of austerity as a driver in governments’ poor handling of the crisis, with economies still reeling from the 2008 financial crash.

“The social safety nets are full of holes,” he said, adding: “These current measures are generally short-term, the funding is insufficient, and many people will inevitably fall between the cracks.”

The report states that another 176 million people could fall into poverty globally if action is not taken to strengthen protections, just as the UK braces for its deepest recession on record to fully take hold.

While 113 countries have pledged at least £459 billion to help disadvantaged people through the pandemic, De Schutter said these efforts were doomed to fail because the schemes exclude people in need including the two billion informal and precarious workers worldwide – 61 per cent of the global workforce.

“Many schemes require forms to be completed online and exclude large groups of the population who have no internet access or who have only weak digital literacy,” he said.

“Some schemes impose conditions impossible to fulfil for people in precarious forms of employment or without a permanent address. Migrants, especially undocumented migrants, often are not covered. And although some schemes have been designed to cover workers in the informal sector and in precarious forms of employment, many do not.”

And most programmes are set to end or be phased out in the coming months, the report said. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed yesterday that the England and Wales eviction ban will be lifted on September 20, while the Government’s job retention scheme is set to end next month – putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of redundancy.

World leaders should be guided by human rights principles to bolster protections for people in and at risk of poverty, the report concluded.

The cash directed at families in need is often “grossly insufficient” to guarantee a decent standard of living, De Schutter said, adding: “Families in poverty have by now used up whatever reserves they had, and sold their assets. The worst impacts of the crisis on poverty are still to come.”

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