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19.46 15 Dec 2017


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A UN envoy has warned that the planned US tax reform package is a bid to make the country "the world champion of extreme inequality".

Prof Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has issued his report after a two-week trip to California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington DC.

He suggests that the persistence of extreme poverty in wealthy countries such as the US is "a political choice made by those in power... with political will, it could readily be eliminated".

He argues that democracy is being 'steadily undermined' in the country, as a result of both 'overt and covert disenfranchisement'.

He also highlights shortcomings in 'basic social protection' - pointing to issues such as the 'shockingly high' number of children in poverty, and extreme poverty in indigenous communities.

However, he also dedicates much of his report to current government policies and approaches.

A section of the report is dedicated to Republican tax reform plans, due before Congress again in the coming days before it is passed on to President Trump for signing into law.

The bill has drawn widespread criticism in the US for focusing on tax cuts for the wealthy & corporations, as well as for what Democrats have suggested is the rushed process that saw it narrowly pass through the Senate.

Prof Alston argues: "While most other nations, and all of the major international institutions such as the OECD, the World Bank, and the IMF have acknowledged that extreme inequalities in wealth and income are economically inefficient and socially damaging, the tax reform package is essentially a bid to make the US the world champion of extreme inequality."

He adds: "At the state level, the demonising of taxation, as though it is inherently evil, means that legislature effectively refuse to levy taxes even when there is a desperate need."

The UN envoy also visited Puerto Rico, which was recently hit by devastating hurricanes.

Despite the hurricane hitting three months ago, many residents in the US territory remain without power.

Prof Alston argues: "In a country that likes to see itself as the oldest democracy in the world and a staunch defender of political rights on the international stage, more than 3 million people who live on the island have no power in their own capital.

"What is clear is that many, probably most, Puerto Ricans believe deeply that they are presently colonised and that the US Congress is happy to leave them in the no-man’s land of no meaningful Congressional representation and no ability to really move to govern themselves."

You can read Prof Alston's full report here.


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