UK’s austerity policy ‘has driven people into poverty’

22 May 19

An “ideological” pursuit of austerity has replaced the Britain’s social safety net with a “harsh and uncaring ethos”, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston.

The government has “remained determinedly in a state of denial” about the scale of poverty in the UK, Alston’s scathing report for the UN, released today, has said.

“The results of the austerity experiment are crystal clear,” the special rapporteur wrote in his analysis, following an official visit to the country in November 2018.

“There are 14 million people living in poverty, record levels of hunger and homelessness, falling life expectancy for some groups, ever fewer community services, and greatly reduced policing, while access to the courts for lower-income groups has been dramatically rolled back by cuts to legal aid.

He claimed local authorities throughout the country have been “abandoning” services but despite some “reluctant policy tweaks” the government has a “deeply ingrained resistance to change”.

The report made a raft of recommendations including restoring local government funding to “provide critical social protection and tackle poverty at the community level”, scrapping the benefits freeze and eliminating the five-week delay in receiving initial universal credit payments.

“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,” Alston’s report said.

Alston was particularly critical of the transformation of the benefits system under universal credit, which he said may lead to digital exclusion.

“Benefit claims are made online and the claimant interacts with authorities primarily through an online portal. The British welfare state is gradually disappearing behind a webpage and an algorithm, with significant implications for those living in poverty.”

The rapporteur’s findings come after a two-week mission in which he visited different regions in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He published interim findings in November 2018 claiming that local government had been “gutted” by government policies.

He noted that close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021 despite living in the fifth largest economy in the world.

“Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their school; jobs and community networks; life expectancy is failing for certain groups;  and the legal aid system has been decimated,” he added.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live, and other countries have come here to find out more about how we support people to improve their lives.

“Therefore this is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here. It paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty.”

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd is reported to be lodging a complaint against the report. PF is awaiting confirmation on this from the Work and Pensions department.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the poverty charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “There can be no moral justification for failing to act on this report. The picture painted by the rapporteur builds on our evidence of the 14 million people locked in poverty in the UK.

“We all want to live in a country where everyone is free to build a decent life. For too many people in the UK that is a distant dream.”

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