UN poverty expert warns UK “in clear violation” of human rights

The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, has warned that the UK is "in clear violation" of its human rights obligations.

24 May 2019| News

Reporting on his findings from his official visit to the UK in November 2018, in which he met with stakeholders from across society, he criticised the government’s austerity programme as “an ideological project designed to radically reshape the relationship between the government and the citizenry”.

Alston reported that the number of people in poverty in the UK has now reached 14 million, with “record levels of hunger and homelessness”, falling life expectancy, fewer public services, “greatly reduced policing” and poor access to justice following cuts to legal aid.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” he said, expressing dismay at the government’s decision to “double down on its policies” despite warnings that they were causing suffering.

He also lashed out at the government’s continued boasting of record employment levels as an insincere evasion of the key issues affecting workers, such as insecure and low-paid jobs.

“The endlessly repeated response that there are more people in employment than ever before overlooks inconvenient facts: largely as a result of slashed government spending on services, close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now; 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty; and millions of those who are in-work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope.”

“It is difficult to see recent changes as more than window dressing to minimise political fallout,” he said. “The situation demands a new vision that embodies British compassion and places social rights and economic security front and centre.”

Alston cited Brexit as a potential opportunity for a change in the government’s response to social policy and a recentring of its priorities on the welfare of its citizens.