UN Rapporteur on Poverty highly critical of government austerity policy

Human Rights in bright lights

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has issued a damning report on the UK’s austerity measures and the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well-off.

The report says:

‘Although the United Kingdom is the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of its

population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced

destitution in 2017. …The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society

together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a

harsh and uncaring ethos.’


The Rapporteur visited communities, groups and government officials across the UK in November 2018.  On Scotland specifically, his report says:

‘Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity,

despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits

on their ability to raise revenue….But mitigation comes at a price, and is not sustainable….

Scotland, despite having the lowest poverty rates in the United Kingdom, has the

lowest life expectancy and pockets of profound poverty.’


 The report goes on to speak about the new Scotland social security system and notes:

‘The system eschews sanctions entirely and, in contrast to UC, is decidedly not digital by default.

Rather, the stated goal is to make benefits equally accessible however people want to access them.

It is too soon to say whether these steps – and Scotland’s new powers of taxation –

will make a difference for people in poverty. However, it is clear that there is still a real

accountability gap which can and should be addressed. The Social Security (Scotland) Act

of 2018 provides no redress for violations of the right to social security. But if the

compelling recommendations made by the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human

Rights Leadership are adopted, and if the Scottish Government acts swiftly on its

commitment to incorporate the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into

Scottish law, these steps will make a huge difference.’


The UK Government has strongly criticised the Rapporteur’s report saying:

“This is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here. It

paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, said she felt it was politically biased and alleged that Alston did not do enough research, only visiting the UK for 11 days. The government said it would complain to the United Nations.


Philip Alston hit back saying:

 “The statement is as troubling as the situation,” he said. “There is nothing that indicates any

willingness to debate over issues which have generated endless very detailed, totally reputable reports

across the political spectrum in the UK. All of these are dismissed.”


Read the report in full here.



Image credit: Timothy West, Flickr 

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