UK: UN Report on poverty says welfare system cruel & misogynistic, but Govt myopically in denial! Print E-mail

 London ~ Friday November 16 2018

UK's welfare system is cruel and misogynistic, says UN expert after damning report on poverty

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

By Victoria Ward

Britain’s welfare system is so sexist it may as well have been compiled by “a group of misogynists in a room,” a UN expert has claimed.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, warned that poverty in the UK is a “political choice” and that compassion and concern had been “outsourced” in favour of tax cuts for the rich.

In a damning 24-page report he brands levels of child poverty “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster” and said that limiting benefit payments to two children was as “forced and physical” as China’s one-child policy.


Critics of the UN’s involvement in UK politics suggested that the organisation should spend its time and money studying poverty in third world countries rather than the world's fifth largest economy.

David Gordon, director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, said: “There’s an oddity to this, obviously.

“When you think of the special rapporteurs on extreme poverty and human rights, you expect them to be visiting sub-Saharan Africa or Haiti. You don’t expect them to be visiting the UK.”

Food banks: Alston raised concerns about the impact of universal credit (Andy Buchanan/PA)

In 2013, the UN criticised the UK for changes to housing policy, nicknamed the bedroom tax, claiming it undermined the right to adequate housing.

On that occasion, ministers branded the report a "misleading Marxist diatribe" and made an official complaint to the UN, describing the intervention in British politics as a “disgrace”.

Alston also angered President Trump's administration earlier this year after a similar inspection resulted in accusations that his White House was implementing "cruel policies".

Alston insisted his UK report was an “important case study to better understand the implications of an austerity approach.”

But the Government said it “completely disagreed” with his analysis, pointing out there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

The Australian human rights lawyer spent months investigating poverty in Britain before spending two weeks speaking to residents of some of the UK’s poorest neighbourhoods.

His report states that 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, with 1.5 million classed as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.

It warns that local authority cuts are “damaging the fabric of society,” that community roots are being systematically broken and that as a result, the middle classes could soon find themselves living in “hostile, unwelcoming” communities.

Alston was particularly critical of universal credit, the controversial benefits system that merges six benefits into one payment, which he said had "plunged people into misery and despair".

He said Tory reforms were driven by a “commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering,” and claimed that poverty could be erased if there was the political will to do so.

Single women caring for children had been the worst hit by austerity cuts, he found.

“There is a really remarkable gender dimension to many of the reforms,” he told a briefing in Westminster.

“If you got a group of misogynists together in a room and said ‘how can we make a system that works for men but not women?’ they wouldn't have come up with too many other ideas than what’s in place.”


He said the single household payments meant that women were not often able to control the family income, putting them at greater risk of domestic violence.

He alleged that when he put this to Esther McVey, who was Work and Pensions Secretary until she resigned over Brexit this week, she said that “90 per cent of people the UK have joint bank accounts anyway so what’s the problem?”

He claimed she added: “Well if they’re having problems, they should get counselling and if things are really bad, they should leave.”


A Government spokesman said: “With this Government's changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low.

"Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.”

Alston will report to the UN's human rights council in June 2019.