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Fri, 5 June 2020

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United Nations report accuses Tories of inficting 'great misery' on most vulnerable in Britain

United Nations report accuses Tories of inficting 'great misery' on most vulnerable in Britain

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Tory policies have inflicted “great misery” on the most vulnerable in society and the Government is “in denial” about it, a damning UN report has said.

Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the UN, said welfare reforms since 2010 were “punitive and mean-spirited” - and said the working poor had been especially hit.

The verdict is a blow for Theresa May, after she singled out the working poor - or the "just about managing," as she named them - as the group she most wanted to help when she made her first speech on the steps of No 10.

But the Government said it “completely disagrees” with the analysis and insisted it was “absolutely committed” to helping people improve their lives.

Mr Alston issued his withering verdict at a press conference in central London this morning, after a 12-day fact-finding mission to Britain.

“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 said.

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives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."

He said the rollout of the Universal Credit welfare system - which has been delayed and tweaked throughout its troubled run - treated "claimants like guinea pigs".

“I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit," he explained.

“When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits."

And he added: “The Government has remained in a state of denial, and ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”


Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “I am deeply concerned by the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report. The Government should listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies."

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.”

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