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Poverty in the UK is ‘systematic’ and ‘tragic’, says UN special rapporteur

Poverty in the UK is 'systematic' and 'tragic', says UN special rapporteur

Prof Alston met people across the UK, including these Belfast residents

 

Published in BBC on May 22nd, 2019,

The UK’s social safety net has been “deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”, a report commissioned by the UN has said.

Special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston said “ideological” cuts to public services since 2010 have led to “tragic consequences”.

The report comes after Prof Alston visited UK towns and cities and made preliminary findings last November.

The government said his final report was “barely believable”.

The £95bn spent on welfare and the maintenance of the state pension showed the government took tackling poverty “extremely seriously”, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.

Prof Alston is an independent expert in human rights law and was appointed to the unpaid role by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. He spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

The Australian professor, who is based at New York University, said government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration [economic impoverishment]” of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty.

Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

 

The report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

In 2017, 1.5 million people experienced destitution, meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or they had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.

Despite official denials, Prof Alston said he had heard accounts of people choosing between heating their homes or eating, children turning up to school with empty stomachs, increased homelessness and food bank use, and “story after story” of people who had considered or attempted suicide.

UN special rapporteur Philip Alston at a meeting in Clacton-on-Sea, EssexImage copyright BASSAM KHAWAJA
Image caption People in Clacton shared their concerns at a meeting with the UN special rapporteur

 

He said the cause was the government’s “ideological” decision to dismantle the social safety net and focus on work as the solution to poverty.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” said Prof Alston.

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