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

The UK government is in a state of denial about the impact of austerity policies on the poor, UN rapporteur Philip Alston’s hard-hitting report on poverty, concluded. Here are some of the main points.

Austerity

Alston was critical of the “mentality” behind cuts and reforms introduced in the past few years that have brought misery and torn at the social fabric. “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach …”

Universal credit

The government’s ambitious programme to simplify the benefits system was a good idea in principle but was “fast falling into universal discredit” and should be overhauled. It was gratuitously punitive in its effects. Draconian sanctions and long payment delays drove claimants into hardship, depression and despair.

Brexit

The most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society will take the biggest hit from Brexit, Alston said. People felt their homes, jobs and communities were at risk. “Ironically it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.”

Who suffers?

“Changes to taxes and benefits have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it,” said Alston, with the costs of austerity falling disproportionately on the poor, women, ethnic minorities, children, single parents, asylum seekers and people with disabilities.

Holes in the social safety net

Massive cuts to council funding, alongside big rises in demand for social care, had reduced many local authorities to providing basic services only, and had heralded the closure of libraries, parks and youth clubs. This was “damaging the fabric” of British society and eroding its sense of community.

Poverty

Alston said the UK government had told him the social support system was working and there was no extreme poverty in the UK. But the individual testimonies he received during his visit told a different story. “There is a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.”

A digital welfare state

The government’s embrace of digital technology and automation was especially visible in universal credit, where the digital-by-default approach excluded people with no internet access or skills. “We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm,” Alston said.

Contributors

Patrick Butler and Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Amber Rudd condemns UN poverty report in combative return to frontline politics
New work and pensions secretary dismisses ‘disappointing’ study of UK

Peter Walker Political correspondent

19, Nov, 2018 @6:42 PM

Article image
Has Boris Johnson really been opposed to austerity since 2010?
He warned against cuts in London when he was mayor but has consistently voted in support of austerity policies

Richard Partington and Jamie Grierson

28, Nov, 2019 @12:15 PM

Article image
Amber Rudd to lodge complaint over UN's austerity report
Rudd will say Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, is biased

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

22, May, 2019 @10:59 AM

Article image
Angered by the damage that austerity does to the poor | Letters
Letters: Readers respond after the UN poverty envoy said austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on UK citizens

Letters

19, Nov, 2018 @5:46 PM

Article image
Tony Blair backs cross-party calls for new child poverty strategy
Former PM urges ministers to tackle ‘blight of child poverty’ in UK amid rising inequality caused by Covid

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

21, Jan, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Food bank Britain: can MPs agree on the causes of poverty in the UK?

Amelia Gentleman: Reliance on emergency food banks for people in extreme need has exploded in the past four years. A group of MPs want to find a solution – if only they can agree on the cause. Meanwhile, the people who actually run food banks are much less divided

Amelia Gentleman

04, Jul, 2014 @6:43 PM

Article image
Tories have avoided the truth over austerity and food banks
The government has been reluctant to admit that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks

Haroon Siddique

01, Aug, 2018 @6:32 PM

Article image
Lowest paid in UK have suffered the most financially in the pandemic, report finds
Joseph Rowntree Foundation says lockdowns have hit incomes of those in insecure work the hardest

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

13, Jan, 2021 @12:01 AM

Article image
Poor families could take in lodger to beat benefit cap – minister
Tory attacked as out of touch for saying families living in poverty could renegotiate rent

Peter Walker Political correspondent

21, Nov, 2018 @5:10 PM

Article image
UN report compares Tory welfare policies to creation of workhouses
Ministers in denial about impact of austerity since 2010, says poverty expert

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

22, May, 2019 @6:00 AM