‘Punitive, mean spirited and callous’ – the view of Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on Britain’s austerity policies.
Further to receiving research evidence and personal stories from nearly 300 civil society organisations and individuals (Including NSUN), an unprecedented number of contributions ahead of a visit, Philip Alston toured the UK, engaging with communities and government alike.
In a press conference on 16 November, he said ‘Britain is heading towards an alienated society’, made of ‘dramatically disconnected’ groups, those ‘living the high life’ and the very poor, relying on food banks even if in work.
Alston was shocked at the frequent talk of suicide, and said that there are ‘very serious mental health dimensions to the poverty in the UK’.
The Special Rapporteur explains austerity policies by ideology, seeing as ‘there have not been a great many savings’, ‘Britain prefers to offer tax cuts to the wealthy’, the state ‘lacks compassion’ and ‘doesn’t have your back any longer’.
‘The UK government is in a state of denial about the impact of austerity policies on the poor’ said Alston and the ‘sergeant major mentality’ behind harsh and painful benefit sanctions make for a punitive approach that is at odds with British values of fairness.
As Brexit looms, the UN special Rapporteur said he worries about the dire impact it will have on low income groups, already struggling within a shrinking welfare safety net.
His most damning statement is probably that the government’s austerity policies could be analysed ‘in terms of their inconsistencies with Britain’s basic Human Rights obligations’.
Alston also noted that ‘the harshness of these policies could be changed overnight, and with very little money’.
Philip Alston’s press conference and published statement
You can watch the press conference here
You can read and download Philip Alston’s statement here