UK austerity detrimental to citizens: UN report

By Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – The UN poverty envoy blamed the British government for a sharp rise in poverty and inequality among its citizens with its austerity policies.

Prof. Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, published his report after a two-week tour of the country in which he visited those who were most affected and vulnerable to the government’s measures.

Despite lauding the U.K. as the fifth largest economy in the world and a political system that is the envy of many, Alston said it “seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty.”

“This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation,” he added.

The scathing 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next year, said that the austerity measures and policies that have been in place for over a decade were driven by a desire that was political rather than economic.

According to the report, 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are so poor that they are unable to afford basic necessities.

Referencing statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Alston predicted there will be a 7 percent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022 and a possibility that it will jump to 40 percent if major structural changes were not made.

“For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one,” Alston added in the report.

The UN envoy recognized the work done by the charities, think tanks and parliamentary committees in bringing to light the plight of the nation’s poorest.

The report also shed light on how Brexit will make the situation much worse and said uncertainty will persist for a long time.

The report also warned that the U.K. will lose billions of pounds in EU funds which in turn will greatly affect the poorer areas of the country that have benefited from those very same funds, with a reduction of almost £9 billion.

On the issue of human rights, Alston said that if the European Charter of Fundamental Rights would no longer be applicable in the U.K., the high level of human rights protections enjoyed by the population will “significantly diminish.”

Concluding his report, Alston said that poverty in the U.K. is a political choice and that there should be a legislative recognition of social rights that will make British society more equal and decades of austerity and inequality.