‘Punitive, mean-spirited & often callous’: UN tears apart legacy of austerity in UK
Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, slammed the “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” policies, undertaken as a “political choice” rather than for economic necessity.
The damning 24-page report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next year.
Alston’s stunning declaration focused on Britain’s rising level of child poverty, the "Orwellian" Universal Credit scheme and the increasing reliance on food banks to feed Britain’s hungry.
According to figures, noted by Alston, that were compiled by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; 14 million people – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic life essentials.
“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” Alston said.
The UN rapporteur highlighted studies that warn of a seven-percent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, potentially up to a rate of 40 percent.
Implemented by former British Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-Chancellor George Osborne, austerity policies were pitched as a necessity following the 2008 financial crisis. They have been continued by Theresa May’s administration.
“Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so,” stated the human rights lawyer, who took aim at Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to give a tax cut to the rich in last month’s budget.
Alston, who visited London, Cardiff, Newcastle, Oxford, Belfast, and Glasgow during his two-week fact-finding mission, stated that Britain’s rising poverty was “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes.”
During his mission, Alston met with then-Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. The former television presenter, who resigned from her role over Brexit on Thursday, dismissed Universal Credit opponents as political saboteurs or ignorant of how the system works.
Flaws in the scheme have damaged claimants mental health, while benefit sanctions were labelled “harsh and arbitrary,” according to Alston, who warned that vulnerable claimants will “struggle to survive.”
On the issue of food banks, which an estimated half a million Britons rely on, he bemoaned that “their mobilisation resembled the sort of activity you might expect for a natural disaster or health epidemic.”
The UK government is yet to officially respond to the report.
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