UK Poverty – we need to open our eyes

While Brexit has been dominating the headlines this last week, the UK has been visited by the UN’s Rapporteur (a person who is appointed by an organisation to report on the proceedings of its meetings) on extreme poverty and human rights.

Philip Alston has been visiting several parts of the UK including London, Oxford, Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast, speaking to individuals, politicians, charities etc to report on the current poverty situation in the UK. His report is damming! He states that the UK Government has inflicted ‘Great Misery’ on its people with ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous’ austerity policies driven by political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, as reported by the Guardian this morning.

So what can we take away from the report?

Well just look at the Guardian’s headline this morning: Austerity has inflicted misery on people – UN. He reported that even though the UK is the worlds 5th Largest Economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and economic disaster”. Some of the stats are just hard to believe: 14 Million people in the UK live in poverty (1 in 5), 1.5 million people are destitute, meaning they can’t afford the basic essentials, and it is predicted that by 2022 40% of children will be affected by poverty, a 7% in just 4 years!!

We know that over the last few years the government’s education policy has focussed on ‘British Values’, well the report states that the current poverty rates ‘are unjust and contrary to British Values’.

While the full report won’t be presented to the UN until next year, speaking at a press conference Alston made the following claims:

  • Austerity Britain was in breach of four UN Human rights agreements
  • The limit on benefits payments to only the first two children in a family is comparable to China’s one-child policy
  • Cuts of up to 50% to local council budgets are highly concerning and damaging the fabric of society
  • Alston described the mobilisation of food banks resembled what you’d expect after a natural disaster
  • He also cited how poverty and austerity has had a massive effect on mental health

You’ve only got to look at the increase in food bank use and high numbers of homelessness to see that poverty is a massive problem in the UK and one which the current government aren’t actively trying to tackle; you could go as far as saying that UK poverty is state sponsored.

As one would expect, Alston was highly critical of Universal Credit, saying it was ‘fast falling into universal discredit’ and should be overhauled – hopefully with Amber Rudd now at the helm in DWP we could see some big changes.

Brexit was also criticised with Alston saying ‘The most vulnerable in society will take the biggest hit and that people feel their jobs, homes and communities are at risk’.

But one of the biggest things that can be taken away from the report is that it concluded that “Poverty is a political choice’.

What have the government said?

While the government have been preoccupied with Brexit, and with the Department for Work and Pensions secretary resigning this week, it was down to a government spokesperson to say that they ‘completely disagreed with the report’ before going on to talk about household incomes being at record highs, income inequality has fallen and that universal credit was supporting people into work, faster.

Whatever your political allegiance, you’ve got to say that poverty is something that must be tackled, and tackled fast. I find it appalling that in a country like Britain, working people are relying on food banks, children are going to school hungry and that a policy like Universal Credit is allowed to go on.

What can you do?

If you have read this and like me felt angry and want to do something, then you can. Firstly you can donate to your local food bank. Sadly, Christmas is one of the busiest times of year for food banks, so why not buy a few extra items on your weekly shop. A reverse advent calendar is a popular thing to do in December, get a box and fill it with a different item everyday in December. Secondly, why don’t volunteer at or donate to your local homeless shelter/charity? These are small things that will make a real difference. And finally, write to your local MP and vent your anger, make it personal to you and your local area, they have to reply to you and the more letter they receive the more likely they are to lobby the government on their constituents behalf.

Useful links:

Thank you to the guardian for their article on this issue, from which a lot of information in this article came from

The draft UN Report, which is referred to throughout

A Guardian article about Alston’s visit to the UK’s biggest food bank in Newcastle, and on which visit a lot of claims about food bank usage are based

The Trussel Trust is the UK’s biggest food bank network, find your local food bank and more information about how you can get involved

Want to find your local homeless shelter?

Write to them allows you to find your local MP or councillor, and allows you to write to them directly from their website

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