Conservatives said the report was "innapropriate" and "political"
At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Conservative MPs jeered when Jeremy Corbyn mentioned the United Nations special rapporteur on poverty Philip Alston.
In November, Alston came to the UK for a fact-finding mission and published a report describing the government’s austerity programme as “cruel and inhuman”.
The report was particularly critical of changes to the benefits system which have pushed people into poverty. Alston said these changes were ideologically-driven and that ministers were in “a state of denial” about the misery they’re causing.
He also said many of the changes were sexist, hitting women worst. He said:
“I think if you had got a group of misogynists in a room and said ‘guys, how can we make this system work for men and not for women’ they wouldn’t have come up with too many other ideas than what is already in place.”
One way in which women are put in danger by the welfare reforms is that Universal Credit is paid to a household. Many women therefore cannot control the income and are put at greater risk of domestic abuse.
As well as women, Alston said that people with disabilities had suffered “endless problems as a result of the changes”. Benefits have been reduced dramatically and assessors have wrongly concluded that people are fit to work.
Alston also said that welfare changes and austerity have made the issues of loneliness and poor mental health worse, particularly for elderly people.
Due to council’s budgets being cut by nearly 50% on average, community facilities have disappeared and cuts to benefits mean people can’t afford to catch the bus to meet friends.
He also said that expecting asylum seekers to survive on £37 a week, without being able to work and without any government services is “entirely unrealistic and very punitive”.
Looking to the future, he said that Brexit would damage the economy and that the poorest in society would be hardest hit by this. He implied this was ironic as many commentators have claimed austerity helped cause the Brexit vote.
Conservatives were dismissive of these findings. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said the report was “highly inappropriate” and “extraordinarily political”.
Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and reporter for Left Foot Forward.
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