Government austerity measures have inflicted ‘great misery’ with policies aimed at social engineering rather than economic necessity, according to a controversial report from the United Nations.
The UN’s poverty envoy Philip Alston wrote a damning indictment of the state of the British economic policy after completing a two-week fact-finding visit to the UK.
He claims a fifth of the nation – about 12 million people – live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute as they cannot afford to buy essentials even though the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and unemployment is at the lowest level for decades.
Child poverty is social disaster
“Child poverty is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster,” he wrote.
“It seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”
Alston claims austerity policies breached four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, the disabled and people’s economic and social rights.
His stance is backed by charities and think-tanks who have spoken out against austerity.
People shouldn’t be left destitute
“As a nation we have tackled poverty before and we need to do so again. Social security should be providing an anchor for people when their circumstances sweep them into poverty – it certainly shouldn’t be leaving them destitute,” said Chris Goulden, deputy director of evidence and impact for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one of the groups assisting Alston’s research.
“There are clear actions the UK government can take – ending the freeze on benefits and building on the principles behind universal credit to make sure that work is a proper route out of poverty. The Budget included a welcome step to raise the work allowance for people on universal credit – demonstrating what can be done when people living in poverty are heard.