Social Justice

The UN’s poverty report slams government for 'mean-spirited' austerity

Dr Philip Alston’s final report into deprivation in the UK has been called “barely believable” by the government

Philip Alston UN investigates poverty, food poverty and food banks

UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty Philip Alston on a visit to the UK in 2018. Image: UN

Dr Philip Alston’s long-awaited final United Nations report into poverty in the UK has warned that the government is infringing human rights of poor families with a “punitive and mean-spirited approach”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on poverty’s scathing report ripped into Universal Credit, welfare cuts and austerity following a whirlwind 12-day visit to the UK last year to meet with foodbanks, schools and more to assess life on the breadline in the country.

And his findings have laid the blame at the feet of the government with the DWP described as creating a “digital and sanitised version of the 19th-century workhouse made infamous by Charles Dickens”.

Dr Alston also warned that local government cuts to preventative services had been replaced with crisis intervention services that are even costlier and recommended that the government scrapped the benefits cap and ended the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.

Dr Alston said: “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.”

When Dr Alston delivered his preliminary report in November last year, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd responded bullishly, citing the political language used.

The response has been similarly robust this time around. A government spokesperson described the UN findings as “barely believable”. They said: “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.

“All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life.”

Rudd has followed that up with an intention to make a formal complaint to the UN about the report, citing political bias and a lack of research.

However, the report was overlooked in Prime Minister’s Questions today as Brexit continued to dominate the news agenda while the report arrived on the same day that the DWP launched a new much-criticised advertising campaign to boost perceptions of Universal Credit in the Metro newspaper.

But poverty campaigners have hailed the report as offering a clear snapshot of the need to act to lift Brits from poverty in modern-day Britain.

“There can be no moral justification for failing to act on this report,” said Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “The picture painted by the Rapporteur builds on our evidence of the 14 million people locked in poverty in the UK. We all want to live in a country where everyone is free to build a decent life. For too many people in the UK that is a distant dream.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group added: “After a decade of cuts, low-earning families and those who can’t work have been left with too little to live on and the damage is showing.

“We can reduce child poverty in the UK – we’ve done it before.  But it will require a willingness from Government to first see the problem and then to deliver a strategy for solving it.”

The next step is for Dr Alston to present the report formally at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 27 with the UK government required to respond.

For more on the UN report, buy next week’s Big Issue magazine, available on Monday from vendors and The Big Issue Shop.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Low pay as a trainee bus driver left me desperate. I skipped meals and ended up £46k in debt
james rossi, who faced debt
Cost of living

Low pay as a trainee bus driver left me desperate. I skipped meals and ended up £46k in debt

DWP ramps up AI use to 'bring the future to the welfare system' and push people into work
dwp mel stride
Department for Work and Pensions

DWP ramps up AI use to 'bring the future to the welfare system' and push people into work

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus changes to universal credit
money in wallet/ dwp benefits
Benefits

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus changes to universal credit

Archbishop of Canterbury joins growing calls for end to 'cruel' and 'immoral' two-child benefit cap
archbishop of canterbury
Two-child benefit cap

Archbishop of Canterbury joins growing calls for end to 'cruel' and 'immoral' two-child benefit cap

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know