INews: - The government is ‘doubling down’ on its ‘anti-poor policies’

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  • UN accuses the UK of exacerbating poverty and violating human rights

  • 'A digital and sanitised 19th century workhouse'

  • 'Great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily'

“British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach” 
Philip Alston, UN

The Government is doubling down on its anti-poor policies leaving nearly half of the UK’s children living in poverty, a damning UN report has said.

Theresa May’s administration is accused of violating the human rights of poor people through the universal credit system, the 2016 benefit cap, spiralling housing prices, a lack of legal aid for those in need and closure in public services.

The analysis of the Government’s long-term commitment to austerity comes after UN special rapporteur Philip Alston visited the UK in November 2018.

14.5m people are working in poverty. He took an 11-day tour of nine different cities which had borne the brunt of the Government’s austerity policies – a 44 per cent cut to the UK welfare budget since 2010.

Mr Alston, who noted the UK is the fifth most economically prosperous country in the world, called the near decade-long austerity policy a “commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering” and said the Government is intentionally leaving Britons impoverished and destitute.

About 1.5 million people have less than £10 after housing costs or have had to go without necessities such as shelter, food and heat, the UN envoy said, with households spiralling into debt while they await their universal credit payments.

There has been a 5,000 per cent rise in food bank usage since the implementation of the benefit reduction cap, which stops universal credit payments rising in line with inflation.

He said there were 14.5m people are working in poverty after his tour of towns across the UK, including Belfast, Glasgow and Liverpool.

The Australian envoy wrote: “Great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalised, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping,”

He added: “British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.

“It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised 19th century workhouse… rather than seeking to respond creatively and compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity.”

‘Digital and sanitised nineteenth century workhouse’

“Austerity policies have deliberately gutted local authorities and thereby effectively eliminated many social services, reduced policing services to skeletal proportions, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres, and sold off public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres.The report notes at least 28 authorities in England have shuttered their local welfare funds, and councils reported reducing related expenditures by 72.5 per cent between 2013 and 2018.

“It is hardly surprising that civil society has reported unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation, prompting the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention.

“The special rapporteur met with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless, 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 persons with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work – against their doctor’s orders – or lose support.

“He met many for whom a single crisis, such as an unexpected health condition, a divorce or a disability, led to disaster.”

He concluded: “For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain would not just be a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster rolled into one.”

‘A social calamity and economic disaster all rolled into one’

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, commenting on the UN Special Rapporteur’s latest report, said: “This report is a shocking indictment of the brutal cuts to social security introduced by Conservative-led governments since 2010 and the deeply flawed, punitive system that they have created.

“The evidence it sets out should be a source of shame to this Government, from people being driven into debt due to the wait for Universal Credit, through to those at risk of destitution because of the draconian sanctions regime.

“The sharp increase in food bank use tells us that the social security system has lost its way and is failing to protect people from poverty.

“The Government attacked the initial report in November as being ‘political’ and brushed it aside. It must now end this state of denial, listen to the evidence and take urgent action to tackle the profound injustices in our society.”

Although the report has sparked an international outcry, the Government appears to be in vehement opposition to its findings.

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd said she will lodge an official complaint over the report, remarking an 11-day trip would not be enough to reach such searing conclusions.

Ms Rudd’s department, the Department for Work and Pensions has comprehensively denied the allegations made in the report, branding the report a “completely inaccurate picture” of the UK.

A DWP spokesperson from the unit responsible for rolling out universal credit 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.

“We take tackling poverty extremely seriously which is why we spend £95 billion a year on welfare and maintain a state pension system that supports people into retirement.

“All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the National Living Wage, so people earn more in work.”

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