UN official blasts austerity for inflicting ‘unnecessary misery’

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has claimed government policies and benefit cuts have inflicted ‘unnecessary misery’ in the UK.

Speaking after a two-week tour of the country, Philip Alston said government policies have inflicted great misery, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, and on millions of children who are locked into a cycle of poverty from which many will have great difficulty escaping.

During his visit, Mr Alston travelled to nine cities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and met with people affected by poverty, civil society, front line workers, and officials from a range of political parties in local, devolved and UK Governments.

‘I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin,” Mr Alston said.

‘The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions, but that work does not relieve the Government of its obligations.

‘The Government has remained in a state of denial, and ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan,’ Alston said. ‘Despite making some reluctant tweaks to basic policy, there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.’

In the United Kingdom, 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.

After years of progress, poverty is rising again, with child poverty predicted to rise 7% between 2015 and 2022, homelessness is up 60% since 2010, and food banks rapidly multiplying.

‘In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one,’ Alston added.

Responding to his comments, the deputy director of evidence and impact at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Chris Goulden said: ‘The Government needs to read the rapporteur’s report and act on it now, bringing the country together to build the just and compassionate society we all want to be a part of.

‘As a nation we have tackled poverty before and we need to do so again. Social security should be providing an anchor for people when their circumstances sweep them into poverty – it certainly shouldn’t be leaving them destitute.’

Pictured is Mr Alston at a town hall in Newham –  © Bassam Khawaja 2018

Jamie Hailstone
Senior reporter - NewStart


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