Amber Rudd hits back at UN poverty envoy’s “wholly inappropriate” language

The new Work and Pensions Secretary wasted no time in responding to Philip Alston’s claims that Universal Credit is “punitive and harsh”

Amber Rudd has begun her tenure as Work and Pensions Secretary by mounted a stinging attack on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty’s damning UK report.

Philip Alston revealed his interim findings on UK hardship in a scathing attack on Universal Credit on Friday, calling the controversial benefits “punitive and harsh” and claiming that the government’s policies had “inflicted misery”.

Rudd replaced Esther McVey in her new role on the same day and has taken aim at the “political nature” of the language that Alston used to describe poverty across nine cities in England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“I have seen the report by the rapporteur, I’ve read it over the weekend and I must say I was disappointed to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language,” said Rudd, speaking in the House of Commons today.

“We, on this side of the House, will always engage with professionals, with experts, with NGOs. We are not so proud that we don’t think we can learn as we try to adjust Universal Credit for the benefit of everybody. But that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying. But we look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure that we get the right outcome for the people who we want to look after.”

The war of words echoes the response that Alston received last year when he criticised President Donald Trump’s policies following a similar fact-finding trip to Alabama. Then-US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley described Alston’s investigation as “politically motivated”.

Alston reported that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50 per cent below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. After years of progress, poverty is rising again, with child poverty predicted to rise seven per cent between 2015 and 2022. Homelessness is up 60 per cent since 2010, and food banks are also rapidly multiplying.

He targeted child poverty as well, describing the predicted seven per cent rise in rates by 2022 as “staggering” and insisted that the message behind Universal Credit for claimants was that “you are alone” and “the state no longer has your back”. He also reported that the government was “in a state of denial”.