Labour fury as Philip Hammond rejects claim 'vast numbers of people' face poverty
Philip Hammond has been accused of living in a "different world" after he rejected the idea that "vast numbers" of people face "dire poverty" in Britain.
Labour said the Chancellor should "consider his position" after he hit back at a United Nations report that claimed "ideological" government welfare policy and spending cuts had led to increased hardship.
Last month's report by the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, estimated that 14m people - or one-fifth of the UK population - live in poverty, with some forced to choose between heating their homes and eating.
The figure was based on an expermential new measure of poverty which takes account of "inescapable costs" like rent, mortgage payments and childcare.
But the Chancellor dismissed the UN findings as "nonsense" in an interview with BBC Newsnight.
He said: "I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country."
Pressed on the 14m figure flagged by the UN report, the Chancellor added: "I don't accept the UN Rapporteur's report at all. I think that's a nonsense. Look around you. That is not what we see in this country."
And he said: "Of course people are struggling with the cost of living, I understand that. But the point here is that we're addressing these things through getting to the root causes."
The comments were seized on by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who branded the Cabinet minister "heartless".
"Multi-millionaire Hammond lives in a different world to the rest of us," Mr McDonnell said.
"He displays a brutal complacency about the scale of poverty and human suffering his austerity programme has created.
“Heartless, without compassion or any sense of humanity, after these remarks he demonstrates he is not fit to hold office and should consider his position."
The Labour frontbencher added: "It’s not just the United Nations: Human Rights Watch and others have commented on the poverty and inequality under this government.
"Meanwhile Philip Hammond’s colleagues compete with each other to promise more tax cuts, showing how utterly out of touch the Conservatives are with the problems of today’s society.”
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