Three requirements to overcome poverty

Together, it is possible to overcome poverty and inequality, but this involves respecting three complementary requirements which must be implemented simultaneously:

  • Involving vulnerable people for them to assume their rightful place in society;
  • Placing the public interest at the heart of public policies;
  • Developing an economy that genuinely works for human beings and their environment.

Involving vulnerable people so they can assume their rightful place in society

Some population groups are more exposed to the risk of poverty. This is the case for women (due to gender inequalities), sick people or those with disabilities, ethnic minorities, people in exile, etc. Generally, the most vulnerable people are often rendered ‘invisible’, blamed, ostracised, and sometimes criminalised. But where have discrimination and stigma been shown to reduce poverty and inequality? Is the world fairer if we reject the weakest or if we pretend not to see them? Obviously not! On the contrary, our first duty as humans is to offer a dignified welcome to the most disadvantaged people, along with the educational means to enable them to regain their self-esteem, to make their own choices and become integrated in society.

Since its origins, under the leadership of Abbé Pierre, the Emmaus movement was built on supporting, involving, and integrating the people it serves. The first companions were builders who created shelters for themselves and other homeless people; then they become ragpickers in order to generate their own resources to carry out solidarity work. In its governance and its management, the movement has created spaces for training, debate, decision-making at all levels (group, regional, national, and international). It is this involvement that allows the most vulnerable and excluded people to rebuild their lives and regain a sense of purpose, by becoming solidarity actors themselves.

To involve vulnerable people, we need to rethink public policies along with our behaviour as citizens.

Placing the public interest at the heart of public policies

Through ideology, cronyism or the influence of lobby groups, public institutions pursue policies that are not always in the best interest of the public they are supposed to protect. But should we give in to the most powerful through collusion, corruption, or opaque practices? Can political decisions be made without a respectful, well-argued, balanced, and transparent debate? Obviously not! Placing the general interest at the heart of public policy is a democratic imperative because, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. It is through public deliberation that we can put the economy and the management of public affairs back at the service of people and the protection of their fundamental rights, notably through the collective management of the commons.ix

The public interest is not only everybody’s business, it also concerns everybody. “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority”x, wrote Albert Camus. Public policy and the law must therefore take into account the interests of the most vulnerable, for they are the ones who are most in need of protection. It is not about assistance, but about solidarity, equal opportunities, and access to fundamental rights without discrimination. Constructing the public interest therefore requires the most vulnerable to be represented and participate in democratic life. This begins with the protection and recognition of the rights of half of all people: women.

To put the collective interest at the heart of public policy, we need to rethink democratic participation and socio-economic rulemaking.

Developing an economy that genuinely works for human beings and their environment

Since the 1980s, neoliberalism has promoted a vision of the economy that sets its own rules. The number of multinational companies has increased tenfold and several of them have acquired more power than some states. Deregulation allows capital and goods to move freely, but also allows countries to compete on social, environmental and tax laws. As such, workers and nature become mere ‘adjustment variables’ in the quest for perpetual growth and profitability. This results in relocation, unemployment, precarious contracts, involuntary part-time work, the working poor, exploitation of children, forced labour, lack of social protection, plundering of natural resources, pollution, tax evasion and fraud, corruption, impunity, unequal distribution of the wealth produced, etc.

Zone de texteAre human rights less valuable than finance and trade? Is poverty just collateral damage? Should the pursuit of profit be allowed to destroy the planet and flout social justice? Obviously not! Our first economic duty is to ensure sustainable ‘well-being’ for everyone. International trade treaties and public policies can rebuild what they have undone: we can rebuild a plural economy, not just a market economy, that is compatible with the principles of social justice and sustainability. We already have the technical capacity; what we need now is the political will to guarantee a dignified life for all, without exhausting the planet’s ecosystems. It is possible to choose value over price, to prioritise being rather than having, equitable sharing over exclusive ownership, and many people are doing this already.

The shock created by the pandemic is an opportunity to regain economic balance: public funds must finance selected growth based on sustainable production, responsible consumption, a market economy working for the collective interest, an ethical and solidarity-based economy that safeguards and advocates for rights.

To develop an economy that is truly at the service of people and their environment, we must transform and diversify our economic model.