The UN recently heard calls for “povertyism” to be added alongside race and sex to the list of characteristics protected under anti-discrimination law.

The proposal, made by the UN’s expert on poverty (Olivier De Schutter), would seek to protect those in poverty from being treated less favourably than their colleagues due to socio-economic disadvantage.

The timing of this proposal is unsurprising given the current cost of living crisis. The UN’s expert said: “as the global rise in energy and food prices throws millions more into poverty, they must be protected not just from the horrors of poverty, but also from the humiliation and exclusion caused by the scourge of povertyism”.

De Schutter believes that many countries are reluctant to acknowledge the issue because socioeconomic disadvantage is not a fixed identity, unlike race, for instance.

However, we have already seen some jurisdictions acknowledge povertyism in legislation, with France now defining discrimination on the grounds of poverty a criminal offence and the Canadian province of Quebec including “social condition” as a prohibited basis of discrimination.

An example of povertyism in employment which was cited in De Schutter’s report included employers judging CVs more harshly when an applicant’s address is in a deprived area. It could also potentially include less preferential treatment being given to those who have been state educated compared to those who attended private schools.

There has so far been no suggestion that povertyism will be added to the list of protected characteristics in England and Wales and it is unclear how it would work in practice. For instance, might there be parameters to determine whether someone is living in poverty, or will a perception that they are living in poverty be enough for them to benefit from the protection?

Currently there are nine characteristics which are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, these being:

  1. Age
  2. Disability
  3. Gender reassignment
  4. Marriage and civil partnership
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religion or belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

If you have a query relating to discrimination in the workplace, then please contact Employment and HR Partner, Amanda Badley, on 0116 402 9019 or email

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