The UN Speaks Out: Brexit Poses Risk to Already Beleaguered Poor Brits

The United Nations has warned that the UK’s austerity policies have led to callous dismantling of the welfare system and that the situation could worsen as a result of Brexit.

The warningcomes in a report byPhilip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Alston released the report on Friday, November 16 at the end ofhis 12-day visit touring the UK, where he spoke to some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Alston said that successive governments have enacted policies that have led to”the systematic dismantling of the social safety net (and) 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.”

The 24 page report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights council in Geneva in 2019, sees Alston pull no punches in condemning the austerity policies that reviews have shown to have been unnecessaryand may have, in fact, slowed economic recovery in some areas.

The report draws on data from the UK, finding that “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.”

In addition, the report notes that “The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.3….”

The report details several major issues. One is that austerity policies enacted by UK governments and kept alive by the current Conservative-led government are in breach of the human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights. Alston said at the press conference that a room full of misogynists would have been hard-pressed to come up with worse.

Alston is particularly critical of the UK limiting child benefit payments to the first two children, calling it decidedly like the much-condemned Chinese one child only policy.

Alston also mocks the UK Government’s rollout of its Universal Credit scheme, whichhe pithily names “Universal Discredit”.He lambastes the government for appearing “moreconcerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles” than actuallyhelping people to find their feet.

Rationales offered for why the UC system is so time-consuming (up to 12 weeks may pass before claimants prove they fulfill the necessary criteria and them actually seeing their money) are labelled “illusory” by the report. Alston says that essentially the government is using the scheme to control cash flow and, in some cases, make money, adding,”the motivation strikes me… aswanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship.”

The report does acknowledge some positives. The government has succeeded in cutting red tape in several areas and helped ensure pensioners receive the money they have been saving their entire lives at a rate protected from market fluctuations (where possible). But italso says thatcaps on benefit claims and other changes outweigh these positives.

Alstonfurther highlights that the UK Government has systematically cut money for legal aid, which has meant people seeking access to reviews of benefit claim denials even more difficult. This, teamed with Local Authority cuts, has meant that schemes that were previously run under council control and were designed to help the poor have been cut at every level.

The report notes, “At least 28 authorities have shuttered their local welfare funds and councils reported reducing their related expenditures by 72.5% between 2013 and 2018.46 From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of destitute people who reported receiving in-kind help from local welfare funds dropped sharply by 28%.”

It is critical to highlight the praise that Alston has in the report for charities, local councils, job centers and people on the individual level whom he says have all attempted to fill the gaps left by austerity. Without them, many more people would find themselves without a lifeline.

And it may well be that, should Brexit go ahead, this problem will only get worse.

Brexit: Hitting the Poor the Hardest

Alston dedicates a large portion of the report to Brexit, that is the UK leaving the European Union. The move, which is now not even popular with a majority of British voters and which has been opposed by most major businesses, is set to be finalized by next year. Unless, that is, a second referendum or some other extraordinary measure halts the process.

For the poor, Brexit could be disastrous, according to Alston.”Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off after Brexit,” he told The Big Issue. “Consequences for inflation, real wages, and consumer prices will drive more people into poverty unless the government takes action to shield those most vulnerable and replaces current EU funding for combating poverty.”

“The government has remained in a state of denial, and ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan,” Alston concluded.

The UK government has hit back saying that, while not perfect, Universal Credit is and will help get people back into work faster and will help those truly disadvantaged to find their way out of poverty. Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary, said she was disappointed with the “political nature” of the language that Alston uses in the report. Notably, the government has yet to provide substantive evidence of why Alston is wrong, however.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

67 comments

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini19 hours ago

Brian F
If you are still reading.....

Just to be precise, the immigration the Brti.s wanted to stop with Brexit was not Muslim immigration but the free movement of people within the E.U. It was the Eastern Europeans, like the Poles, the Brexiteers wanted to stop moving into the country.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini23 hours ago

Brian F
Here's a story to try to convince you of what I'm saying. A few years ago I was helping an African Muslim immigrant (we have since become good friends) and I asked him if it was difficult for Muslims to accept help from Christians. He looked at me in astonishment and said 'Of course not! How could you think that? We have no problem with Christians, for us Jesus is an honoured prophet'. OK?

The question you need to ask yourself is WHY you want, or need, to feel all this hatred and fear. Not good for your mental health!!!!!!!

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Annabel B

Brian F
Sorry to be blunt but you are talking ignorant nonsense. Yes, immigration is a big problem, caused by appalling situations in the countries of origin of the immigrants. But, first, the E.U. did NOT 'force countries to accept mass immigration'. It simply happened and each country has tried to deal with it as best it can. The E.U came up with a rational plan for sharing the burden but no European country accepted it.
Then Muslims ARE NOT and WILL NOT take over Europe. Believe me, Muslims do not try to convert Christians, all they want is to be allowed to practice their religion in peace. Do you know a single Muslim Brian? I think not. I on the contrary happen to live with some, and they are meticulously respectful of my 'Christian' culture. As before I accuse you of having been brain-washed, this time by the worst kind of alt-right propaganda. You and people like you are the real danger spreading false, hate-fuelling rumours.

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Brian F
Brian Fyesterday

Annabel I think that the immigration issue is also a lot of what is creating hatred and resentment of the EU. The EU is seen right or wrong as an elite dictatorship that is forcing countries to accept mass immigration. Germany is forcing Merkel out, as the ADF is gaining power. Poland has made it clear that they will not accept immigration. As I have told you before, I agree with Poland 100%. Europe will lose it's culture and identity if it accepts millions of black Muslims. This isn't racism, it's just reality. These Muslims do not assimilate, and create their own enclaves. The white Europeans are bein g taken over by Muslims in Europe thanks to EU imposed mass immigration. Most people in Germany and Poland agree with me. The UK has had enough of forced immigration. Europeans are losing their culture, as Muslims are taking over their country.

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Annabel Bedini

Brian F
The huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor is a global phenomenon and has nothing to do with the E.U. The whole world is suffering from an increasing disenfranchising of the lower levels of society while the rich get richer. One of Macron's problems is a failure to communicate with the people of France. His attempts to curb carbon emmissions has not been explained well and he failed to address the problem of providing efficient local public transport to alleviate the difficulties of raising fuel taxes. But Spain, by the way, is doing well at the moment.

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Brian F
Brian F1 days ago

Annabel It doesn't seem to working to well in France. The oligarchy in France under Macron is getting to rich, while the workers live in poverty. The gas tax was the last straw. French workers have had enough. The same is true here as corporations are making record profits, and real wages adjusted for inflation have gone down. The rich have a 39% tax rate, much less than the 94% they had 40 years ago. Maybe as you say, the EU has nothing to do with the policies of individual governments, but their does seem to be many failures, like Greece, Spain and France.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini1 days ago

(continued)

...not chicken out. It's clear you have been brain-washed by the most rabid Brexiteers' propaganda. Sigh.

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Annabel B
Annabel Bedini2 days ago

Brian F
I was about to cancel this Care2 post when I saw you have picked up the thread again.

It is arrogant of you, Brian, to believe you can tell me, a European, what is best for my countries. You may have read a good deal about Europe's problems but you have no idea of the background. This is not merely a case of what workers earn or austerity measures (which, yes, have proved to be mistaken and will not be applied again). This is about separating a nation from its brethren with nothing better to put in its place. If you want to think in purely economic terms, Europe is the biggest single market in the world. The U.K has not yet managed to tie up any definite advantageous trade agreements with other countries in the world. How good will that be for workers whose products have no markets? Then think about this famous 'sovreignty' everyone shouts about: has the EU forced Britain to adopt the single currency? Drive on the right? Change its health care or education systems? Interferred with its legal framework based on common law? I could go on and the answer would continue to be NO! None of the European Union countries is 'governed' by a Brussels 'dictatorship', all are members of a collaborative common decision-making process. Yes there is corruption, yes there are power struggles at the top, yes, many problems fail to be solved for various sectors of the public BUT the way forward is to work to IMPROVE this experiment from within, not

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Brian F
Brian F3 days ago

Annabel Bedini The EU has done a good job, enforcing badly needed laws with respect to climate change, and setting renewable energy targets. I think they should be more aggressive given the fact that the IPCC has admonished us that we only have 12 years before a catastrophe happens. However low wage Eastern Europeans will have to compete with higher paid Western Europeans. This will cause wages for Western Europeans to go down. Getting rid of the Euro may be necessary. Look what the EU did to Greece. Brexit may be good for working people in Britain. If one country in the EU is having tough economic times, too bad. The EU's answer is austerity which destroys countries. Countries having sovereignty over their own governments is sometimes better than having centralized control by the EU. When individual countries in the EU cannot run their own deficits, problems arise. The EU is similar to here in the USA, where the rich are making record profits, and the poor are making much less. The EU is like our Republican party, and only cares about the elite rich people. The EU doesn't care about the workers in Britain or Scotland, so yes the EU is a Brussels elite centralized dictatorship. Brexit is more than just immigration. It's also about people in Britain not wanting to be governed by unelected elites in the Brussels who know nothing about what they need.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini7 days ago

Irene S
I agree with every word you say!

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