UK government savaged for plunging people into poverty


Philip Alston hears from children in Scotland. Image by Bassam Khawaja.

The United Nations rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights has said withdrawing support for those most in need is ideological

16th November 2018 by Gareth Jones 2 Comments

A UN expert on extreme poverty has said the UK government no longer has the backs of the country’s poorest.

Presenting his findings following a 10-day tour of some of the poorest regions of the UK, UN rapporteur Philip Alston said that poor people no longer feel they are getting the support that they used to get from those in power.

He concluded that austerity measures have resulted in very little savings being made, and that the government could make choices that would help the poor but had instead focused on tax cuts for the rich.

“The nature of this (welfare reform), is very clearly an ideological one,” he said. “I don’t say that necessarily in a critical way. Governments have different ideologies and think about social welfare in different ways.”

He continued: “The system as epitomised by Universal Credit is driven by the desire to get across the message ‘The state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own’.”

Alston highlighted that despite the UK having one of the largest economies on the plant, a fifth of the population live in poverty (14 million people), and described poverty levels as “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

In a 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year, the human rights lawyer said that in the UK “poverty is a political choice”.

Alston said it is clear that Brexit is going to make things worse for the poor, and that this has not been treated seriously by government ministers.

He said: “In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all.

“But Brexit will have serious consequences in this domain and the challenges need to be dealt with head on. A lack of clarity is preventing families at risk of poverty from planning for its impact. People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk.  Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.”

Alston also took aim at a move towards a ‘digital by default’ welfare state, where support systems will be mainly online only, as many poorer households are often without digital skills, and said automated benefits systems led to people waiting weeks for payments if problems occurred.

He described the consequences of benefits sanctions as ‘grim’ and said that local governments having their budgets cut meant the poorest people would soon have nowhere to go.

In reference to Scotland, Alston described schemes to address poverty as ambitious but said there is an accountability gap in the Social Security (Scotland) Act that needs to be addressed.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said the report needed to act as a wake-up call to government at every level.

He said: “The Rapporteur’s findings should be a wake-up call for government at every level.  As the UN investigator found out when he spoke to children in Glasgow child poverty isn’t only happening overseas, it is undermining children’s lives here in Scotland and across the UK.

“The key drivers of rising child poverty are clearly summarised by the UN rapporteur's description of the current UK approach to social security as ‘punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous’.

"UK ministers now need to wake up to the damage being wreaked and end the freeze on working age benefits, scrap the two child limit and fully restore the value of universal credit.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: "We have seen poverty increasing for the first time in decades; a direct result of the choices that have been made. These choices have had a disproportionate impact on people who are already more likely to experience poverty, like disabled people and lone parents.

"The state of denial about the impact of the decisions that have been taken cannot go on.We all share a moral responsibility to respond to these findings by taking the steps needed to free people from the grip of poverty, and ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living.”

While in Glasgow, the rapporteur met staff from A Menu for Change, a partnership project ran by Oxfam Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and Nourish Scotland. 

Project manager Polly Jones said: “This report is a damning indictment of the political choices which are pushing people across the UK into poverty, hunger and despair.

“Here in Scotland, the picture is equally grim. The Scottish Welfare Fund should provide a lifeline to families in crisis, but as Alston has highlighted, too many people are missing out on the assistance they’re entitled to. His report should serve as a warning to the Scottish government and local councils to prioritise this fund so it's able to reach more people, more quickly and avoid them being driven to the doors of foodbanks.”

18th November 2018 by KELLY MCGILLVARY

Ideological! Plummeted into the ugliest corruption through greed. VIOLATED BY THE SYSTEM AND NOW I WILL FIGHT AS A MOTHER FOR HER SON PEOPLE NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE

18th November 2018 by MISS KELLY R MCGILLVARY

The resources have been taken before they have even arrived! Fife Council is corrupt to the top of the tree. I will have an open debate on the matter anytime. Evidence is evidence it cannot be altered!