Government cuts have inflicted “unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world” and entrenching high levels of poverty, a UN investigation into poverty in Britain has found.
Professor Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur on poverty and human rights has spent 12 days investigating the impact of austerity measures, Universal Credit, and Brexit in Britain.
In a remarkable conference in London on Friday to present his preliminary findings. Speaking on the impact of austerity, Alston said: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”
Pulling no punches, Alston lambasted government cuts, saying few savings had really been made, but tightening public budgets had instead exacerbated serious social problems in community, families and emergency rooms.
Alston said that poverty was rising, with child poverty predicted to rise seven per cent between 2015 and 2022, and that homelessness was up by 60% – with the use of food banks multiplying.
“During my visit I have spoken with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future.
“I’ve also met young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose benefits, against their doctor’s orders.”
Prof Alston also accused sanctions of having a “command and control” approach and of being “harsh, immediate and painful” and said they had created “fear and loathing” among claimants and said there seemed to be a loss of the British sense of community.