The recent report from Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur makes shameful reading.
The UK is the fifth richest country in the world, yet Alston reports; “One fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017.
Policies of austerity introduced in 2010 continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences. Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated.”
This is a damming indictment of the political choice of austerity, made by Tory Government. It’s important that Alston has included the destruction of the legal aid system. Without access to justice it’s so much harder for those who are victims of flawed decision making by Tory Ministers to challenge decisions at either Tribunal level or in the Courts.
Alston goes on to say; “The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities’ budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings. 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.”
Clear and evidential proof that the hostile environment towards disabled and sick people really does exist.
Alston’s report is very clear about the change in the UK; “British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping, and elevate the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest economic levels of British society.
It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens, rather than seeking to respond creatively and compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity in an age of deep and rapid transformation brought about by automation, zero-hour contracts and rapidly growing inequality.”
Alston writes about the effects of austerity on a number of different groups of people. His evidence is relation to disabled people is unambiguous; “Nearly half of those in poverty – 6.9 million people – are from families in which someone has a disability. Persons with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit by austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021–2022, more than 30 per cent of their annual net income. People with disabilities told the Special Rapporteur repeatedly about benefits assessments that were superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor.”
The Government’s response has been woefully lacking with Theresa May actually having the nerve to “disagree with the report” when she was challenged at PMQs by Margaret Greenwood the Shadow DWP Minister. Amber Rudd the new DWP Minister called the report ‘disappointing’. Alston has, quite rightly, accused the Government of “remaining determinedly in a state of denial”.
Alston makes it very clear that; “Considering the significant resources available in the country and the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have resulted in significantly worse outcomes, the policies pursued since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations.”
He doesn’t believe Brexit will improve things, saying; “If Brexit proceeds, it is likely to have a major adverse impact on the most vulnerable”.
Alston’s whole report is a blunt and brutal condemnation of the policies of successive Tory governments.
Labour has already promised that it will implement the UN Convention of the Rights of Disabled People. Using the convention as a basis for changing the law and improving the lives of disabled people can’t come soon enough.