UN rapporteur on extreme poverty issues report on UK poverty

Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has issued his report on poverty in the UK:

The philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010. The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal “cure” for poverty. But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the Government chose not to adjust course. Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalization, stigmatization, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights. The basic message, delivered in the language of managerial efficiency and automation, is that almost any alternative will be more tolerable than seeking to obtain government benefits. This is a very far cry from any notion of a social contract, Beveridge model or otherwise, let alone of social human rights. As Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well off to lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.

The United Kingdom Government should: (a) Introduce a single, multidimensional measure of poverty; (b) Systematically measure food security; (c) Request the National Audit Office to assess the cumulative social impactof tax and spending decisions since 2010, especially on vulnerable groups, with a view to identifying what would be required to restore an effective social safety net; (d) Reverse particularly regressive measures such as the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap and the reduction of the Housing Benefit, including for underoccupied social rented housing; (e) Restore local government funding needed to provide critical social protection and tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs of communities and differing tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review; (f) Initiate an independent review of the efficacy of changes to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012 by the Department of Work and Pensions; (g) Train Department staff to use more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance; (h) Eliminate the five-week delay in receiving initial UC benefits; (i) Ensure that the benefit truly works for individuals, including by facilitating alternative payment arrangements and reviewing the monthly assessment practices; (j) Review and remedy the systematic disadvantage inflicted by current policies on women, as well as on children, persons with disabilities, older persons and ethnic minorities; (k) Re-evaluate privatization policies to ensure that the approach adopted achieves the best outcomes for the citizenry rather than for the corporate sector; transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service and the Government should ensure that all areas are adequately and affordably served.

Brexit presents an opportunity to reimagine what the United Kingdom stands for. Legislative recognition of social rights should be a central part of that reimagining. And social inclusion, rather than increasing marginalization of the working poor and those unable to work, should be the guiding principle of social policy. (p.20)

To read the report, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

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