Archive for ‘poverty’

May, 2014

New migration, poverty and super-exclusion?

Professor Jenny Phillimore

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Yesterday I described how the advent of new migration had led to the emergence of superdiversity.  Today I outline how a combination of state responses to migration and the UK’s de-regulated labour market are combining to bring wide-scale and in some case extreme poverty which might be described as super-exclusion.  In this article I bring together data from a recently published re-analysis of the Survey of New Refugees undertaken with Dr Sin Yi Cheung and from two Joseph Rowntree-funded reviews of poverty that will be published in the next few weeks.  The first looks at the situation of asylum seekers (with Dr Nando Sigona and Jenny Allsop) and the second economic migrants (with Dr Simon Pemberton and Professor David Robinson).

Poverty is often portrayed as the main reason that people migrate.  Of course we know that this is not always the case.  Spousal and family migrants come to join an existing migrant and forced migrants seek sanctuary from persecution although they are often depicted as being drawn to industrialised countries by generous levels of welfare.  Our recent research shows that the rhetoric around migration offering people a better life may be misplaced and that high levels of poverty are the reality for many living in the UK.

Asylum seekers are totally dependent on asylum support because they are not permitted to work.  In 2011-12, an asylum seeking couple with children received 59% of Income Support and a lone parent just 52% – around £36 a week. Evidence shows these levels are so low they struggle to meet everyday needs such as paying for food and transport.  Indeed recently a judicial decision confirmed that freezing rates at such low levels was flawed – a review of support rates will now be necessary.

The need for such a review is re-enforced by the re-analysis of the Survey of New Refugees that showed how asylum seekers experienced a range of health and employment problems even 21 months after they gained refugee status.  In particular it was clear that the living conditions imposed upon asylum seekers impacted upon their ability to integrate into a new life as refugees.  More about integration on Thursday.

But what about economic migrants?  They come to work so their economic situation should be better than asylum seekers and refugees.  The evidence from our review, which included new analyses of the Labour Force and Understanding Society Surveys, found low-paid migrant workers were more likely to experience poverty than UK nationals in low paid employment.  Low-paid, sometimes exploitative work impacted upon their health and well-being and left them more dependent on in-work benefits than the general population.  Their vulnerability to poverty was determined by their place in the labour market, lack of employment rights and the precariousness of their work.  There was clear evidence that they accessed poor housing, and this and long-hours and the dirty, dangerous and difficult nature of their work impacted upon health.  Migrant workers tended to live in areas where resources were already under duress.  They were frequently blamed by local people for living in over-crowded conditions and not maintaining properties when they had little choice about where to live.  Working long hours migrant workers had little time to socialise or engage in education including language classes which had ramifications for their ability to integrate.  Indeed we identified a vicious cycle of poverty that emerged from consequences of de-regulated work and policy responses to anti-migrant sentiment.

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So high levels of poverty are evident within the refugee, asylum seeker and economic migrant populations.  Yet these are migrant statuses that are likely to be in the more favourable economic positions.  JRF has just commissioned a detailed study of destitution which will hopefully shed some light on the lives of those migrants who are not permitted to work and have no access to public funds.  Work in progress for the KING migrant integration project is already beginning to show that family and spousal migrants are living in extreme poverty – not permitted to work, attend college and thus learn English, or access benefits leaves them particularly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.

Given the extent of migration associated with the emergence of superdiversity it is likely, particularly if governments continue to pursue restrictionist welfare policies and support labour market de-regulation, that we will see poverty on a scale not seen for many decades perhaps the emergence of super-exclusion that may affect the lives of generations of migrants.  Tomorrow I focus on the experiences of migrant women using the maternity system and show how existing approaches to support and care are having tangible effects on infant and maternal mortality and morbidity.

Professor Jenny Phillimore is Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.

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February, 2014

Applying Global Pressure to Domestic Justice Issues: India’s National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights

Dr Luis Cabrera

Yesterday I wrote about field research I had conducted among unauthorized immigrants in the US and Europe, as well as with immigration authorities and activists. I thought it could be appropriate to follow that up with a brief discussion of some current field research which intersects in some significant ways with the concerns of the Saving Humans initiative.

This work has involved interviews and site visits with Dalit-rights activists throughout India and in the UK. Dalits (former untouchables) make up about 16 percent of the Indian population and are among the most historically oppressed groups in that society, and perhaps worldwide. Dalits traditionally have been barred from all but the dirtiest and most dangerous trades – disposing of human waste by hand, collecting animal carcasses from roads, cleaning, doing outside manual labor. Though situated within Hindu culture, they have customarily been barred from worshipping inside Hindu temples, and even now are most often forced to live on fringes of most villages, working for higher-caste Hindus but rarely mixing in communal life.

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IMAGE: Fish seller in a slum neighbourhood of Chennai whose residents are mostly Dalit persons.

The Indian constitution of 1950 formally bars caste discrimination, and further anti-discrimination measures have been passed since, including some mandating affirmative action in education and the public sector for Dalits and ‘other backward castes’, in the official parlance. Still, discrimination remains widespread, and Dalit activists say that actual protections are all too often weakly implemented.

I became interested in researching the Dalit struggle for an ongoing book project focused on individual rights, diversity and democracy. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. This campaign joined Dalit activist groups around India in an effort to reach out to the global community through the United Nations human rights regime. They sought to bring global pressure on the Indian government to do more toward eradicating caste discrimination.

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IMAGE: NCDHR staff member Sanjeev Kumar in the Baljeet Nagar neighbourhood of Delhi. The area is home to Dalit families who do not hold title to their land and have been forcibly removed by the city and subsequently rebuilt. Kumar is part of a legal campaign seeking to help them stay.

The struggle is of keen interest to me as a student of cosmopolitan or trans-state democracy. In the account I have been developing, I adopt a primarily instrumental approach to democracy. This means that the basic justification for a system where the majority’s representatives set the rules, as opposed to the dictator, the wise few, etc., is that it promotes important individual rights protections.  Democracy, meaning not only voting rights but also rights to speech, assembly, protest, provides important tools for chastening leaders. After all, they have to get elected to lead, and re-elected to keep leading.

Such an approach naturally also places a good deal of emphasis on constitutionalized rights – corresponding to those human interests that are so vital that they simply do deserve protection, whatever a given majority might think. This corresponds to individuals being able to challenge leaders and democratic majorities in courts and court-like bodies. It provides a crucial complement to the chastening function of electoral processes and transparent governing processes.

The argument is naturally sympathetic to cosmopolitan democracy, or the expansion of democratic rule across state borders. If protection of rights is the key, that is, then the primary aim is to ensure that the rights of as many individuals as possible are protected. There is no natural presumption that democratic rule should be limited to a pre-existing ‘democratic people’. In fact, it turns out to be very difficult to show that there is some strong reason in democratic theory or rights-based approaches to limit shared rule to existing borders.

Enter the National Campaign. Here was a coalition whose members had concluded, from long struggle, that they could not achieve the equal rights protections they sought at the domestic level. India is often held up as a democratic exemplar – a country with extensive poverty that still has managed to maintain liberal-democratic institutions and robust participation. Yet, Dalit leaders with whom I have spoken around the country tell much the same difficult story: the rights are on the books, but when it comes to a Dalit person seeking police aid after a caste-motivated attack, or seeking justice in the courts, or responsive and fair governance from elected leaders, actual rights fulfilment remains out of reach.

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IMAGE: Two tutors who help Dalit children with their homework each afternoon discuss their work at a community center in the city of Madurai in southern India.

So, National Campaign members sought to reach beyond India. After being rebuffed by some prominent rights NGOs, they were able to ally with Human Rights Watch. That group allied with Dalit groups to conduct a major study of ongoing caste discrimination in India, published as Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables,” in 1999. The book generated a great deal of attention globally, and it set the stage for National Campaign representatives to reach out more personally.

In 2001, the National Campaign took some 200 Dalit activists to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, sponsored by the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Durban, South Africa. In interviews, numerous NCDHR leaders have cited the Durban conference as a key moment for raising international awareness of caste discrimination in India. By 2005, the then-UN Human Commission on Human Rights (from 2006 the UN Human Rights Council) had appointed two special rapporteurs on caste-based discrimination. The National Campaign’s efforts also were central in the European Parliament’s resolutions criticizing the treatment of Dalits in 2007 and 2012.

Yet, all such efforts to see caste discrimination formally recognized in international law have been vigorously resisted by the Indian government.  Consider that, as early as 1996, the government rejected a UN committee’s decision to include caste discrimination in the category of ‘descent based’ discrimination covered by the UN’s major discrimination treaty. In interviews, numerous NCDHR activists have noted that at the Durban conference a number of countries’ delegates were at first willing to support them openly. After being taken aside individually by India’s representatives, however, all withdrew their support. Trade access, activists believe, trumps a human rights stand every time.

The Indian government’s position has been that it is taking all needed steps to address caste discrimination, and generally that outsiders shouldn’t interfere. At present, the struggle could be described as at an impasse, where a few other countries and some UN representatives are willing to offer criticism, but the Indian government has given little indication that its position could change.

In the National Campaign, there is ongoing discussion about emphases moving ahead. Some, such as NCDHR Convenor Paul Divakar, who regularly travels to Geneva and other international sites to press the Dalit rights case, are firm that international outreach should continue. Some others believe more can be accomplished through intensifying the local and national struggles.

Whatever the ultimate shape of the resistance, the National Campaign’s efforts stand as a crucial case for the study of democracy, including democracy beyond the state. As one NCDHR leader told me, if they had been able to take their grievances to a Global Court of Human Rights, that’s precisely what they would have done. Proposals to create such a court date at least to the development of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a court to interpret and implement the rights proclaimed for all persons. There is little momentum for such a court today, but the NCDHR case should give us strong reason to think that any advocacy of extending democratic rule beyond the state should include advocacy of extending human rights courts as well.

Luis Cabrera is Reader in Political Theory, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham.

February, 2014

Academics Stand Against Poverty: Professional Association Helps Researchers Enhance their Impact on Poverty Alleviation

Dr Luis Cabrera

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For my first entry on the project blog, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a newish academic association that shares many of the same interests as those affiliated with Saving Humans.

This association is Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP). It’s a non-profit, voluntary initiative designed to enhance academics’ impact on poverty alleviation. The driving idea is not so much to get academics out of the ivory tower, but to get those who’d never think of locking themselves up in such a place to share their ideas and experiences, collaborate where it makes sense, and generally just join forces to do a more effective job influencing poverty alleviation policy and practice.

ASAP was the brainchild of some relatively junior academics – political philosophers, in fact – working in Australia in 2009. They wanted to be able to play a more active role in some of the issues of global justice they were researching, and to help the global academic sector worldwide play as strong a direct role as possible on poverty and related issues. Their organizing efforts got a big boost from Thomas Pogge, the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, who was intrigued by the idea and ultimately agreed to serve as president of a formal organization.

Pogge is known as anything but an ivory tower philosopher. He has helped lead a team to investigate the most sound methods for actually measuring poverty. He also has a major project underway to develop the kinds of monetary incentives that would entice big pharmaceutical firms to develop treatments for diseases that mainly afflict the world’s poor – and to be paid by how many of those treated actually get better.

Under Pogge’s leadership, and with a great deal of behind-the-scenes work from the nine members of the ASAP Board, a 19-member advisory board comprised of very prominent poverty-focused academics and a single paid staff member (the indefatigable Rachel Payne), the organization has greatly expanded its presence. It has staged conferences at Yale, Birmingham and the University of Delhi, as well as at universities in Mexico, Spain, Germany, Australia, Norway and elsewhere.

ASAP also has launched or sponsored a number of projects aimed at enhancing academic impact on severe poverty. These include one focused on ensuring that the best research insights inform the global poverty alleviation goals which will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. They also include projects concerned with economic rights and global climate change, the ways in which insights from psychology might inform poverty alleviation efforts, and a project aimed at helping poor persons in India become better informed and able to claim their government-backed entitlements.

I serve as vice president of the ASAP Board and head of a project called Impact: Global Poverty. It features profile articles on academics seeking to go beyond their straightforward research work to have a direct positive impact on poverty alleviation policy or practice. I have been amazed by the kinds of impact projects people have taken on in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities at their universities or as doctoral students.

Profiles have included one on Sukhadeo Thorat, longtime Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, who has had enormous influence on Indian government and private sector policies on integrating dalit persons (former untouchables). We have profiled Prof. Alan Fenwick at Imperial College London, who heads a project that has treated millions suffering from neglected tropical diseases. We also have profiled Bijayalaxmi Nanda of the University of Delhi. She works with groups in the city focused on the worth of girl children and  ending sex-selective abortion. Other profile subjects have included Birmingham’s own Paul Jackson, for his work advising the Nepalese government on re-integration of former rebels into society; and Nicolas Lemay-Hébert, who has worked with Haitian academics and students suffering in the aftermath of that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

I have found all of these academics’ stories inspiring, and we have many more similar profiles in the works. If you know of an academic who is engaging closely with NGOs, policy makers, or is generally seeking to make an impact in addition to standard research work, we would love to know about her/him. Please send a note to me at a.l.cabrera@bham.ac.uk 

Many things are planned for the future with ASAP overall. The organization is growing rapidly, with a number of country chapters forming globally. We are now in the midst of a developing a long-term plan aimed at fully incorporating the chapters and opening more volunteer and related opportunities for ASAP’s 800-plus members worldwide. I am happy to answer any questions about the organization, and I would encourage all academics with an interest in issues of poverty to join.

Luis Cabrera is Reader in Political Theory, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham. 

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