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Sat, 15 August 2020

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Amber Rudd hits back at UN expert who savaged Tories over poverty in UK

Amber Rudd hits back at UN expert who savaged Tories over poverty in UK

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Amber Rudd today hit back at a UN expert who issued a damning report about the state of poverty in the UK.

In her first Commons appearance since her dramatic return to the Cabinet, the Work and Pensions Secretary said it was “wholly inappropriate” for special rapporteur Philip Alston to say the UK welfare system was inflicting “great misery” on the most vulnerable in society.

After a 12-day fact finding mission to the UK Mr Alston said the Government approach was “putitive and mean-spirited” and said ministers were “in denial” about hardship in the UK.

He singled out the controversial Universal Credit system for criticism, saying claimants were being treated “like guinea pigs” and that the Government were ignoring critics.

But taking questions from MPs, Ms Rudd took aim at Mr Alston's verdict and the “extraordinary political nature of his language” he used in his damning report.

"We on this side of the House will always engage with professionals, with experts with NGOs," she said.

"We are not so proud that we don’t think we can learn as we try to adjust Universal Credit for the benefit of everybody.

"But that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying."

Meanwhile, junior minister Sarah Newton also took aim at Mr Alston as she told MPs the UN report contained “factual errors”.

But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the Government to "end the state of denial" and halt the rollout of the Universal Credit system.

Mr Alston said in his report last Friday: “Government policies have inflicted great misery unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalised, and on millions of children who are locked into a cycle of poverty from which many will have great difficulty escaping.”

He added: “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instil discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society."

But a Government spokesman said: “We completely disagree with this analysis. 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 and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

“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.

“We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

Elsewhere in her Commons appearance, Ms Rudd hinted at a change of direction on Universal Credit, noting that she was "listening very carefully" to concerns.

Ms Rudd took over as Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday after Esther McVey quit the post in protest at Theresa May's Brexit plan. 


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