The United Nations monitor on poverty has warned that US President Donald Trump is forcing millions of Americans into financial hardship, depriving them of food and other basic needs while lavishing vast riches on the super-wealthy.
Philip Alston, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited several US states in December to examine human rights and poverty.
He sounds the alarm in the final report of his investigation into extreme poverty in the US which was published on Friday and will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva at the end of June.
“This is a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty,” Alston told The Guardian.
Millions of Americans already struggling to make ends meet faced “ruination”, he warned. “If food stamps and access to Medicaid are removed, and housing subsidies cut, then the effect on people living on the margins will be drastic.”
Asked to define “ruination”, Alston said, “Severe deprivation of food and almost no access to healthcare.”
The report amounts to one of the most damning assessments of Trump’s leadership in his 16 months in the White House. It is likely to spark debate in Congress as well as globally about the US president’s rapid drive towards heightened inequality.
“This administration inherited a bad situation with inequality in the US and is now fanning the flames and worsening the situation,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told The Guardian.
“What is so disturbing is that Trump, rather than taking measures to ameliorate the problem, is taking measures to aggravate it,” he said. “Can you believe a country where the life expectancy is already in decline, particularly among those whose income is limited, giving tax breaks to billionaires and corporations while leaving millions of Americans without health insurance?”
An annual economic survey released last week by the US Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, found that four out of 10 Americans do not earn enough to cover an emergency expense of $400 without borrowing money or selling possessions.
As one of the world’s wealthiest societies, the US is what Alston calls a “land of stark contrasts.” It is home to one in four of the world’s 2,208 billionaires while 40 million Americans live in poverty.