UN Report Brands Austerity as “Ideological, Harsh & Uncaring” Part 1

Professor Philip Alston of the UN
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Today saw the long awaited report from United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston. Alston visited the UK last November and was highly critical in his initial findings. The full report is damning about the Conservative’s use of austerity.

Due to the length and content of the report, I’m breaking it down into a few parts so that it can all be taken in.

I wrote last November about what Professor Alston had said in his press conference following his visit. He was critical of the UK government for its response to criticism and now he has laid bare the inescapable facts of just how bad poverty is in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Outline of the Visit

Prof Alston on his visit to UK  in November 2018
Prof Alston on his visit to UK in November 2018| Photo Courtesy United Nations

Professor Alston visited the UK, (at the request of the UK government it should be noted), on November 5th until the 16th, 2018. The purpose of his visit was to;

“Report to the Human Rights Council on the extent to which the Government’s policies and programmes relating to extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations and to offer constructive recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders.”

In preparation for the visit he invited people to make submissions to him to aide him in establishing facts and planning his visit. He received an unprecedented 300 submissions. These came from individuals, such as myself, think tanks, political parties and academics to name a few.

During his time in the UK he held consultations in London, Oxford, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne, Clacton-on-Sea and Jaywick ,Cardiff , Edinburgh and Glasgow and Belfast.

He ended the visit with a public press conference to give his initials thoughts.

Policies to Blame for rising Poverty

The Professor begins by mentioning that despite the UK being the fifth large econmey in the world, one-fifth (14 million) of Brits are in poverty. It is then he delivers his first damning blow to the Tories.

“Following drastic changes in government economic policy beginning in 2010, the two preceding decades of progress in tackling child and pensioner poverty have begun to unravel and poverty is again on the rise.”

The esteemed academic has made it extremely clear that the 2010 Coalition Government are what kick started the rise of poverty. A disturbing statistic revealed is, by 2021, at least 40% of all children under 16 will be living in poverty. Yes 40%.

“Deliberately Gutted”

It is noted that; “in the past, the worst casualties of these “reforms” would have received at least minimal protection from the broader social safety net.”

The comes another blow to the government’s austerity polices;

“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, shrunk community and youth centres, and sold off public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres.”

This is extremely strong wording for a UN Rapporteur. He is not only saying cuts have made things worse but, that he believes it is intentional.

Something in the report I think is extemely important to mentions is that Alston says that people in the UK “do want to work…….. they want to contribute to their society and communities, support their families, live in safe, affordable housing and take control over their lives.”

This statement in my opinion is extremely important. It helps dispel the benefit scrounger myth that is constantly used to demonise those on benefits.

He finishes the overviews with this, well judge for yourself;

“It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse.”

This is a comparison often made by those on Universal Credit however, to hear it from someone with authority may be seen as a relief to those suffering. They now know that someone has listened and can see the pain being caused.

Government Denial

Amber Rudd DWP
Work & Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP

In his assessment of the UK Government’s response, Alston says that reception has been mixed. He references Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd MP saying she was “dissapointed” at the language in the inital report but that a Juniour Minister did promise to take note of the findings.

This was said by now Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP at a Commons Debate on the the UN visit in which just 14 MPs bothered to attend.

“Lowest unemployment in 40 years.”

It a phrase we hear from Tory MPs on a weekly basis. Alston calls this a fall back point that fails to address concerns.

While he admits that employment has risen since 2010, he adds that 2010 was a low point for unemployment and that since then other EU countries have seem similar rises that the UK has.

He also notes that the government fail to address that in-work poverty outstripped employment growth. IN other words, people are getting jobs and being poorer for it.

To summarise the government’s response to the report the Professor says;

“The Government has essentially foregone the opportunity to engage in a discussion about the real issues affecting poverty in the United Kingdom and refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.”

The Government currently have no official way of calculating poverty. This makes it much more difficult to find out why people are worse of but, it also helps hide the problem.

He is critical of the Tories use of choosing whichever method makes things looks best. Currently, four different measures are used and the best statistic is then chosen for soundbites. See above…

‘Work is NOT the Only Way Out of Poverty’

Amber Rudd is consistent when she says that “Work is the best way out of poverty.” However, Alston slaps this down in one foul swoop.

He highlights that despite record high employment numbers, one-fifth of the population is in poverty. In-work poverty is rising faster than employment with an estimated 4 million workers living in poverty. It is clear that work alone is not making a difference.

Summing Up Part 1

So far, I have detailed roughly one-third of the report. Later on there is much more details and statitics about how different groups, such and the elderly and the disabled, have been affected.

As can bee seen, the report is damning. This is no surprise however, Professor Alston hasn’t just detailed the cause, he’s named the culprit. This is something that the current government will not be able to stomach.

We can expect to see hissy fits and condemnation from Tory MPs and Ministers over the next few weeks. The usual character attacks will be aimed at the author, Professor Alston and anyone else involved.

This report just adds the to list of other UN reports that have blamed Tory Austerity for causing hardship and suffering. Alston has had a much bigger response than the others and has used social media to great effect to raise the profile of his visit.

I will publish part two detailing the report later this afternoon and will link it here once I do.