United Nations says British government in 'state of denial' on poverty

Brexit will drive more UK citizens into poverty – UN rights expert

"In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all", the rapporteur said.

Although poverty rapporteurs typically spend most of their time in the developing world, Alston said it was important to visit Britain, the world's fifth-richest country, because its policies were a litmus test for the politics of austerity.

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, described the situation - in the fifth richest country in the world - as "not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one".

With nearly all studies showing that the UK economy will be worse off following Brexit, due to be triggered at the end of March 2019, the rights expert said the UK Government was treating the risks for the 14 million people now living in poverty as "an afterthought".

"In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one", Alston said. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

He spoke to people directly affected by poverty, including some who depended on food banks and charities for the next meal, homeless families living on friends' couches, and people who had sold sex in exchange for shelter.

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After visiting towns and cities including London, Oxford, Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast, Alston said that "it was obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the vast growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation".

"The introduction of Universal Credit and significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty", Alston's statement said.

Prof Alston said: "British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently created to instil discipline where it is least useful".

"As a "digital by default" benefit, Universal Credit has created an online barrier between people with poor digital literacy and their legal entitlements", Alston said.

The U.K., Alston wrote, "contains many areas of vast wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world". "The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions, but that work does not relieve the Government of its obligations". "Despite making some reluctant tweaks to basic policy, there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention".

The UK government has inflicted "great misery" on its people with "punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous" austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found. Alston said one in five Britons was living below the poverty line as defined by the British government - and that 90 percent of single poor parents were women.

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