UK must act over poverty, housing and equal rights, says UN body

Human rights council makes more than 300 recommendations, with many coming from less well-off countries

The UK must tackle rising poverty, the UN human rights council has said in a report that includes demands from less well-off countries for the British government to act.

Amid worsening financial prospects for millions, the member states of the UN body also demanded action on housing to prevent homelessness, better food security for young children, and equal rights for people with disabilities.

After a four-yearly review, the UN body issued 302 recommendations in a written document on Monday. While some of the demands came from countries such as North Korea, Russia and Belarus, which are likely to be easily dismissed by ministers, others demanding change included New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada.

The report came as new figures showed that 4 million children in households on universal credit face big cuts in income if benefits are not increased in line with inflation in Thursday’s autumn budget, and that the proportion of consumers who cannot afford to eat a healthy, balanced diet rose to 36% last month.

Dozens of organisations in the UK, from Oxfam to the healthcare trade union Unison, said the UK was “failing to meet its international legal obligations”.

More than 80 groups have written to the Ministry of Justice, urging it to heed the UN body’s demands and scrap plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights which has been dubbed a “rights removal bill” by critics.

Signatories include Human Rights Watch and Just Fair, which campaigns for economic, social and cultural rights that it describes as “the rights of everyday life”.

Earlier this month the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty, Olivier de Schutter, told Rishi Sunak that unleashing a new wave of austerity could violate the UK’s international human rights obligations and increase hunger and malnutrition.

This week’s calls for action from the UN human rights council included Romania urging the UK government to “implement an emergency poverty strategy that addresses the impact of rising costs on child poverty targets and on access to affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate social housing”. Brazil said the UK must “improve food security, in particular for young children, adolescents and persons with disabilities”.

Switzerland warned about the legality of the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and New Zealand said the UK government must put forward “policies and practices to eliminate discrimination against minorities”.

On Tuesday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said a third of consumers surveyed in October by the Food Standards Agency had eaten products past their use-by date because they could not afford to buy more food, and a quarter ate cold food because they could not afford to cook.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) calculated that working couples on universal credit with two children would be £752 worse off in 2023-24 if benefits were raised in line with wages (5.4%) rather than inflation (10.2%) in Thursday’s budget. Working lone parents with two children would be £654 worse off.

CPAG’s chief executive, Alison Garnham, said “Children are going hungry because family budgets are at snapping point. This problem has been long in the making and in the current crisis another real-terms cut is indefensible.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our priority will always be to support the most vulnerable and we recognise that people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of those most in need with at least £1,200 of direct payments, and providing all households with £400 towards energy costs.

“This government has expanded access to free school meals more than any other in recent decades, with 1.9 million pupils currently receiving a nutritious free school meal through the benefits-related criteria, and vulnerable families in England are being supported by the government’s household support fund worth over £1bn to help pay for essentials. Additionally, we’re investing £2bn over three years so we can end rough sleeping and prevent homelessness.

Contributor

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Low-income tenants face 'heat, eat or pay rent' choices
Housing benefit freeze leaving poorest private renters with shortfall of up to £140 a week

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

28, Aug, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Austerity is forcing women into sex work – Samantha Morton
Ahead of release of C4 film I Am Kirsty, actor says British welfare system is crumbling

Sarah Marsh

29, Jul, 2019 @5:50 PM

Article image
UK government loses supreme court fight over bedroom tax
Judgment will restore full housing benefit to at least 155 partners of disabled people

Matthew Weaver

13, Nov, 2019 @4:29 PM

Article image
Millions cannot afford to heat homes as UK faces Arctic snap
Joseph Rowntree Foundation urges government to increase basic rate of support to help cover essentials

Matthew Weaver

08, Dec, 2022 @8:05 AM

Article image
Halt universal credit or rough sleepers will double, says Burnham
Greater Manchester mayor says officials from across public sector including NHS believe rollout should be stopped

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

06, Oct, 2017 @2:14 PM

Article image
Shut out of society, young Londoners talk to UN poverty envoy
Philip Alston hears about overcrowded housing and the lure of crime on his austerity tour

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

14, Nov, 2018 @3:32 PM

Article image
Key points from UN envoy's report on poverty in Britain
Summary of Philip Alston’s report which says austerity has inflicted misery on UK citizens

Patrick Butler and Robert Booth

16, Nov, 2018 @4:50 PM

Article image
These Tories won’t fix the rough sleeping crisis, no matter what they say | Nye Jones
They encourage us to think that anyone who is homeless deserves it. A radical cultural shift is needed on this subject, says writer and housing campaigner Nye Jones

Nye Jones

01, Feb, 2019 @5:08 PM

Article image
London rough sleeping hits record high with 18% rise in 2018-19
Sadiq Khan blames crisis on welfare reforms and lack of investment in social housing

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

19, Jun, 2019 @11:08 AM

Article image
Charity helping Ukrainians find UK hosts to scale back work
Exclusive: Refugees at Home says it is taking action as government scheme is unworkable

Diane Taylor

02, Oct, 2022 @1:53 PM