A special rapporteur for the United Nations has claimed that the UK has a “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” approach to those living in poverty. Philip Alston made the claims in a report that assesses the British approach to its poorest citizens.
Alston predicts a 7% rise in child poverty, a 60% increase in homelessness since 2010 and an exponential growth in the number of food banks available.
“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,” Mr Alston said.
“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.
“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach.
“As a ‘digital by default’ benefit, universal credit has created an online barrier between people with poor digital literacy and their legal entitlements. And the ‘test and learn’ approach to the rollout treats claimants like guinea pigs and can wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives.”
Alston delivered the report in London on Friday and said that there was a “state of denial by ministers” about the current state of poverty in the UK.
“[Ministers] have an overriding set of objectives to cut the welfare system, cut what they see as dependencies. I cannot believe that they are as happy with the system as they told me they were.”
In a scathing attack of the governments handle of poverty in the UK, Alston continued by claiming that “Britain is heading towards an alienated society where you have pretty dramatic differences between the upper classes and the lower classes”.
He also claimed that local authorities had been “gutted” by government policies, which had before had a “vital role” in providing a safety net for the population.
Responding to the findings, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood urged the government to listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies.
“Universal credit is failing miserably, leaving families in debt, rent arrears and at risk of becoming homeless. Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household.
“Labour will stop the roll out of universal credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system so that it supports people instead of punishing them.”
The government have yet to respond to Alston’s claims.