UN publishes report on poverty and human rights in Great Britain & Northern Ireland

In November 2018 a UN poverty expert embarked on a two week fact finding mission to the UK. Philip Alston’s final report has now been published.

A summary of the findings states that although the United Kingdom is the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017. Policies of austerity introduced in 2010 continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences. Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated.

The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities’ budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings. 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. A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda.

The main recommendations from the report are that the United Kingdom Government should:

(a) Introduce a single, multidimensional measure of poverty;
(b) Systematically measure food security;
(c) Request the National Audit Office to assess the cumulative social impact of tax and spending decisions since 2010, especially on vulnerable groups, with a view to identifying what would be required to restore an effective social safety net;
(d) Reverse particularly regressive measures such as the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap and the reduction of the Housing Benefit, including for underoccupied social rented housing;
(e) Restore local government funding needed to provide critical social protection and tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs of communities and differing tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review;
(f) Initiate an independent review of the efficacy of changes to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012 by the Department of Work and Pensions;
(g) Train Department staff to use more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance;
(h) Eliminate the five-week delay in receiving initial UC benefits;
(i) Ensure that the benefit truly works for individuals, including by facilitating alternative payment arrangements and reviewing the monthly assessment practices;
(j) Review and remedy the systematic disadvantage inflicted by current policies on women, as well as on children, persons with disabilities, older persons and ethnic minorities;
(k) Re-evaluate privatization policies to ensure that the approach adopted achieves the best outcomes for the citizenry rather than for the corporate sector; transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service and the Government should ensure that all areas are adequately and affordably served.

The complete report can be viewed online here.

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