UK’s poverty tragedy laid bare

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Callous welfare reforms have resulted in widespread poverty across the UK, with charities calling for urgent action

22nd May 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Welfare reforms have created widespread poverty throughout the UK, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Victorian times.

In his final report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused UK Government ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of universal credit, since 2010.

The leading human rights lawyer slammed cuts as ideological and said that reductions in public services have led to tragic consequences.

The independent report follows a fortnight-long visit by Prof Alston last year, where he met communities who face the highest levels of depravation.

Alston 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 report slams the government’s austerity programme, with criticisms of “shocking” rises in the use of food banks and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the “decimation” of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, falling teachers’ salaries in real terms and the impoverishment of single mothers and people with mental illness.

Alston said austerity had “deliberately gutted” local authorities, shrinking library, youth, police and park services to the extent that it was not surprising there were “unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation”.

The report states politicians in Scotland are frantically trying to mitigate the worst features of Westminster policies, however it is too soon to say what effect Scottish Government plans are having on reducing poverty rates.

Groups that support deprived communities in Scotland have hit out at Westminster, following the publishing of the final report.

Anela Anwar, convenor of the Poverty Alliance, said: “This report lays bare the scandalous reality of poverty in the UK. Our social security system should be an anchor that helps us stay afloat during difficult times. But as the report makes clear, the introduction of Universal Credit, the benefits freeze and the punitive sanctions regime have pulled people into poverty.”

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “The UN Rapporteur has exposed the UK Government’s refusal to acknowledge the scale of child poverty. By shining an independent light on poverty, in Scotland and across the UK, this report lays bare the poor living conditions of children and their families that are seen every day in schools, playgrounds and doctors’ surgeries. As a nation, we want to provide a good start for every child yet one in four - 240,000 - children in Scotland are living in poverty, 4.1 million across the UK. Worse still independent projections suggest number will reach five million by 2020-21.”

Jamie Clark, a community activist from Ruchazie, Glasgow, was one of the people Alston met when he visited Glasgow in November.

He said: “As someone who has years of experience raising a family on a low income, the eye-watering findings in this report reflect the reality of the life I see day in day out.

“The biggest problem in my community is Universal Credit and the outrageous waiting time to receive it. I’ve seen people get into two months’ rent arrears while they wait eight weeks for their first payment.

“During that time they have been threatened with legal action by their housing provider. I know from personal experience the impact it has on your mental health and family life when you live in fear of being evicted because you can’t pay the rent.”

“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,” a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said.

“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.”