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The United Nations (UN) is to be presented with a report on poverty in the UK which paints a bleak and depressing picture of a country plummeting back to the Victorian era.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has spent two weeks on a fact finding tour of the UK. In that time he met many members of the public who were struggling to survive:

“In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.”

He found a great deal of evidence of rising destitution, noting:

“. . . the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Alston was particularly scathing about child poverty in the UK:

“For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”

The UN’s rapporteur found the response from government to be uniformly dismissive:

“The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”

In relation to universal credit (UC), he wrote:

“I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.”

Alston was especially concerned about the effects of the sanctions regime:

“One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.”

But the rapporteur was very clear in his finding that the level of poverty being inflicted on people was a political choice rather than an economic necessity:

“The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.”

Alston made a number of recommendations, including a change in the sanctions regime and an end to the five week wait to receive a UC payment:

“The Department of Work and Pensions should conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, and should immediately instruct its staff to explore more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance.”

“The five week delay in receiving benefits under Universal Credit should be eliminated, separate payments should be made to different household members, and weekly or fortnightly payments should be facilitated.”

Sadly, it is extremely unlikely that any of his recommendations will be accepted, let alone acted upon, by the government at Westminster.

You can download a .pdf version of the full report from this link.

Comments  

+4 #2 Frogman9 2018-11-18 16:44
As usual everyone is wrong......apar t from the Tory Party.
+5 #1 mrfibrospondodysthmatic 2018-11-16 21:14
The UN can condemn all they want. The Tories don't give a toss. Don't vote conservatives at the next GE.

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