UN says benefit reductions draconian
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has given a summary of his report on the Government's efforts to tackle poverty in the UK, the impact of austerity measures, Universal Credit and Brexit. The report comes at the end of a two week fact-find mission which involved speaking to communities across the UK.
Mr. Alston opened his statement by highlighting the “staggering” scale of the problem and stating that Ministers are expressing a “state of denial”.
He went on to say that people across the country believe the welfare system is there just to punish them and “not nearly enough is being done”.
The UN Special Rapporteur was extremely critical of Universal Credit.
He said: “The system, epitomised by Universal Credit, is in fact driven by the desire to get across a simple set of messages: the state does not have your back any longer, you are on your own”. He went on to accuse Ministers of have a “Sergeant Major mentality”.
Mr Alston said a number of characteristics of Universal Credit are particularly problematic, harsh, unnecessary and gratuitous, including the five week waiting period, the system of Advances, the policy of paying benefits into a single household bank account, digital by default and automation.
In the press conference, Mr Alston said that he believed there was a dismantling of the broader social welfare net. This includes “draconian” benefit reductions, a punitive approach to benefits, the benefits freeze and cuts in local authority budgets.
He said that “soon there will be nowhere for those in lower income groups to go” and “community roots are being systematically broken”.
Mr Alston was also especially critical of sanctions. He said: “Sanctions are usually counterproductive; they create fear and loathing amongst claimants”. He concluded by saying the consequences of sanctions are “grim”.
However, the Special Rapporteur concluded by saying things “could be changed overnight, and for very little money”; such as ending the five week wait for Universal Credit and making payments into multiple bank accounts.
His final report will be published in summer 2019.
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