The UK Government has been accused of promoting and enacting welfare policies that risk taking us back to the age of work-houses and extreme poverty.
In a final report published today by the UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty and Human Rights, the Government’s approach to the welfare of its own citizens has been described as “doubling down” on the poor…. seemingly claiming that the UK Goverment is engaged in a class war against some of the most vulnerable people in society.
It comes after the UN accussed the UK Government of gross and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights, and is perhaps the most damning indictment of Tory welfare policies to date.
The Special Rapporteur visited the UK between the 5 to 16 November 2018, and heard from charities and benefit claimants who are on the front-line of welfare cuts.
Mr Philip Alston held consultations in London, Oxford, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne, Clacton-on-Sea, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow (Scotland) and Belfast, as well as hearing from oppositions MPs and Government ministers.
He found that despite the UK being the fifth largest economy in the world, many people are struggling to make ends-meet and this has been exacerbated by years of cuts and changes to the social security system.
In particular, he noted how there has been a “shocking increase in the number of food banks and major increases in homelessness and
rough sleeping” – all linked to Government welfare policies.
He also warned that the “legal aid system has been decimated”, meaning poor and vulnerable have limited access to legal advice and recourse.
Furthermore, “Government reforms have often denied benefits to people with severe disabilities”, and “care for those with mental illnesses has
The report also highlights how single parents, who are widely accepted as being among the hardest hit, are “struggling to cope in very difficult circumstances”, and “have been left far worse of”.
In the past, the worst casualties of these ‘reforms’ “would have received at least minimal protection from the broader social safety net”, the report says.
“But austerity policies have deliberately gutted local authorities and thereby effectively eliminated many social services, reduced policing services to skeletal proportions, closed libraries in record numbers, shrun community and youth centres, and sold off public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres.
“It is hardly surprising that civil society has reported unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation, prompting the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention.
“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 accuses the UK Government of being “in a state of denial” over the impact of its policies.
“While local authorities throughout England and Wales are outsourcing or
abandoning services, and devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to “mitigate” or counteract the worst features of the Government’s policies, ministers insist that all is well and running according to plan.
“Despite some reluctant policy tweaks, there has been a deeply ingrained resistance to change.
“The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to listen to people experiencing poverty, the voluntary sector and local authorities, acknowledge their grievances and implement the recommendations below.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “This report is a shocking indictment of the brutal cuts to social security introduced by Conservative-led governments since 2010 and the deeply flawed, punitive system that they have created.
“The evidence it sets out should be a source of shame to this government, from people being driven into debt due to the wait for Universal Credit, through to those at risk of destitution because of the draconian sanctions regime.
“The sharp increase in food bank use tells us that the social security system has lost its way and is failing to protect people from poverty.
“The government attacked the initial report in November as being ‘political’ and brushed it aside. It must now end this state of denial, listen to the evidence and take urgent action to tackle the profound injustices in our society.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We take tackling poverty extremely seriously, which is why we spend £95bn a year on welfare and maintain a state pension system that supports people into retirement.
“All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the national living wage, so people earn more in work.”
UPDATE: It has been revealed that Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, is planning to lodge a complaint about the report, claiming it to be politically biased.