Toward a People’s Budget Based on Human Rights – Vermont’s Campaign to Put People First


The Vermont Worker’s Center, in partnership with NESRI, proposes a fundamental shift in the way the state is spending and raising public money. We present a proposal for a new approach to budget and revenue policies, a People’s Budget framework, which prioritizes people’s needs and is guided by human rights standards.


Over the past few months the Vermont Workers’ Center has surveyed people across the state and held numerous community meetings. We found widespread unmet needs among Vermonters, with many people struggling to meet their fundamental needs of food, housing, health care and livable wage jobs. The survey findings, published in the Human Rights Day Report, Voices of Vermont’s Economic Crisis, show how serious the situation is for many people. Vermont is facing a human rights crisis, which is particularly shocking because Vermont tends to see itself as leading other states in its commitment to promoting the well-being of its people.

But Vermonters also have a vision for change, a vision of a more democratic and accountable government, of public policy focused on meeting needs and realizing rights. Many participants in our survey indicated that they are willing to stand up for their social and economic rights and hold elected representatives accountable. The vast majority affirmed that government has an obligation to meet people’s needs and protect their human rights.

There was an overwhelming agreement among Vermonters surveyed that in order to meet its obligation to the people, the state must change its budget and revenue policies. The vast majority stated that Vermont’s budget should be based on people’s needs.

This is why we are proposing a framework for a human-rights based People’s Budget. The People’s Budget puts people first, recognizing that the purpose of raising and spending money is to meet people’s needs. It provides a rational foundation for spending and revenue policies, in the form of human rights principles and indicators, along with a process for accountability and participation. It requires elected officials to develop policies based on principles and specific goals, to engage the public in developing those goals, and to measure how well the state is doing in increasing people’s well-being and realizing our human rights.

Download the first version of the People’s Budget framework below, and read the report with the survey findings here.


Panelists and Sen. Sanders at the Vermont Workers' Center's Human Rights Day Conference

Additional Resources