Human Rights Day Report: Vermont Falls Short of Protecting Economic and Social Rights

New Vermont Workers’ Center report finds public service cuts hurt Vermonters.

On Human Rights Day, the Vermont Workers’ Center releases preliminary findings of its People’s Budget Project. Based on interviews with service providers, the report finds that the state of Vermont is neglecting its human rights obligations by cutting public services and public jobs in an economic crisis. This has had a significant negative impact on Vermonters struggling to meet their fundamental needs, especially already disadvantaged groups.

The preliminary findings are based on an ongoing collaborative research project carried out with a range of partners and allies, including the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) and advisers from three New England universities. The Workers’ Center conducted 16 interviews with non-profit service providers between September and November 2010. The report concludes that the government cut essential services and jobs despite rising needs among Vermonters, therefore failing to protect economic and social rights, such as healthcare, housing, education, and work with dignity.

“For the past several decades, there has been a shift in public policy towards helping the rich get richer at the expense of working people. In this economic crisis, Vermont should have raised taxes on the rich instead of cutting public services and public jobs, which has needlessly hurt Vermonters and is prolonging the recession,” Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said.

December 10th marks the anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, which states that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” The human rights to education and to work with dignity are also set out in this universally recognized Declaration.

The People’s Budget Project is developing tools for a human rights audit of the state’s budget, an internationally widely used method to assess whether a state’s revenue and expenditure policies meet human rights standards. The project will continue its work by engaging Vermonters in reviewing the state’s budget decisions, and broadening opportunities for participation in the government’s decision-making processes. More quantitative and qualitative research is also planned.

As a first follow-up step to the People’s Budget Report, the Vermont Workers’ Center is organizing a People’s Movement Assembly at the Statehouse on January 5th, 2011. Participants will adopt a common platform for claiming their economic and social rights in Vermont, and are expected to call on the legislature to pass a law for a new universal healthcare system based on human rights.

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