UN attend major conference on UK poverty

Tue,14 November 2023
News Benefits Equality & Rights
Last week Just Fair hosted a major conference on poverty, inequality, and economic, social, and cultural rights in the UK.

The conference entitled Everyday human rights - the route to a better UK, was attended by Olivier De Schutter the UN special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Helen Flynn of Just Fair, Rory Weal of the Trussell Trust (who have just released a report on excessive food bank use) and former UN poverty Rapporteur Mr Philip Aston. Attendees included Amnesty International, Citizens Advice, The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Disability Rights UK.

Five years on from the former UN special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s visit to the UK, and his subsequent damming report , the conference set out the current state of human rights across the UK and discussed potential solutions to the growing crisis.

When the former UN special rapporteur, Mr Alston, first visited the UK in 2018 he concluded that UK government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration of millions across Great Britain”. During his 12-day visit, Mr Alston met people who spoke of their experiences of extreme hardship, from families to Disabled people and carers. Mr Alston said that successive UK governments had presided over the “systematic dismantling” of social security in the UK” calling it a disgrace. In his   2018 UN report, he called austerity cuts to the welfare system ‘ideological’ and ‘tragic’.

Speaking from New York, Mr Aston told the conference that “There is a gap between Political perceptions (of poverty) and what is happening on the ground” saying that the current government’s reaction to the findings in the UN report was to “Deny, deflect and complain” rather than react to the devastating impacts of austerity which have exacerbated since his visit.

The conference heard from other speakers who shared reports and statistics which showed a marked increase rather than decrease of food bank use, more instances of increased food and fuel poverty and human rights abuses.

Jess McQuail the director of Just Fair said : “The government must follow the growing international norm and bring economic, social and cultural rights into domestic legislation to embed a lasting solution to poverty, inequality and injustice.  

Five years on, it bears repeating: UK government policies continue to entrench poverty and inflict unnecessary misery on millions of people. A new vision guided by human rights is urgently needed.”

Dan white policy and campaigns officer at Disability Rights UK and one of the leads at the Disability Poverty Campaign Group said: “For Disabled people and carers, poverty is sadly the new norm. This conference confirmed that there has been a continued downward trajectory for the UK since 2018 with Disabled people bearing the biggest brunt of it.

Hard truths for Government were heard, and they need to listen, rather than continue to deflect and deny. The UK signed an international covenant that created a duty to provide a level of social protection which ensured an adequate standard of living but that has been apparently forgotten, with welfare payments falling behind costs for the poorest people, especially those living with a disability.

The Government simply cannot sit on their hands any longer. Without a fair benefits system, better targeted cost of living payments and better paid jobs things are going to implode. The UK as one of the richest countries in the world is failing its poor, its vulnerable and its Disabled citizens, a resolution to destitution is needed now.”