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Article from Eastbourne People’s Assembly. An Opinion Piece.

Poverty in the UK

This is one bad news story for the Government that our establishment press has actually picked up on and run with. It’s all over the place. And predictably enough, the 24-page report, by UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty – Philip Alston, into the consequences of austerity policies in the UK, has been largely dismissed by the Tories.

Last year they dismissed another UN report that found the UK government guilty of “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”. The Work and Pensions Secretary at the time, Damian Green, strongly refuted the report’s findings and accused the UN of “an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive”.

Um? Sorry, but DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) weren’t exactly complaining about definitions. They’ve been protesting about abuses of their rights caused by the Government since their inception. Fighting for their rights.  Attempting to storm parliament and blocking Whitehall outside Downing Street, some in their wheelchairs. A long and hard battle. The Government may keep trying to sweep inconvenient facts under the carpet, but this time I think not. I think the cover has been blown.

4 human rights violations have been highlighted in Philip Alston’s report; against women, disabled people, children and economic and social justice. Tory policies and cuts are “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world. Government policies have 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”.

And the Government responses? Yes, predictably dismissive. We have Kwasi Kwarteng, Junior Brexit Minister, telling the BBC: “I don’t know who this UN man is, I don’t know where he’s been.” Note. When Kwarteng was interviewed alongside Ken Loach about I Daniel Blake, he told Ken that he was *like Dickens, into telling stories* . Though, admittedly, Kwarteng did say he’d once met a person in his constituency who was vulnerable and perhaps fitted the Daniel Blake bill. What? Only one? Dismissive denials come naturally it seems.

Amber Rudd meanwhile, upon accepting DWP Secretary of Statehood, talked about her Hastings and Rye constituents having wonderful experiences of Universal Credit enabling them to get back to work. “Work”, by the way, includes those on 1 hour a fortnight. No wonder Esther McVey could boast about 1000 people a day getting back to work. But spinning figures does not put food on the table.

Foodbank usage in Hastings area has more than doubled since Universal Credit was rolled out 14 days before Christmas 2016.  But even such startling figures as these do not phase some. Jacob Rees Mogg thinks foodbanks are “uplifting”. A local Eastbourne Conservative Councillor once said she had no idea why local foodbank usage was on the rise, before adding her view that they were good for community spirit.

Amber Rudd has complained in Parliament about Philip Alston’s “highly inappropriate” tone.  Alston hit back with “I think that dismissing a report that is full of statistics and first-hand testimony on the grounds that the minister didn’t appreciate the tone of the report rather misses the point” He went on to urge Rudd to follow some of his recommendations to make the welfare system “more humane”.

So it’s on with compassion by sound bite. Rudd talks about being in listening mode and we have the sounds of ‘one-Nation Conservative’ toning. Ding dong. Like Theresa May’s Burning Injustices. Hot air rising.

But the bite is stinging.  On BBC 4 yesterday Rudd said “I’m critical of how he (Philip Alston) described his findings in a political way”.  Over in Hastings, Labour Party’s Peter Chowney responded to this saying “Philip Alston is an Australian, who works as a Professor of Law in a New York University. He has no political axe to grind in the UK, and had no preconceptions before carrying out his study. To write his report off as ‘political’ defies reason, and amounts to just putting your fingers in your ears and saying ‘I’m not listening’….It’s no way to receive a report from a major figure in the United Nations, based on an objective assessment of this government’s policies and their shocking, punitive impact on poor and disadvantaged people”.

No. This isn’t going away easily. There is a real stir. After years of campaigning against austerity, it is with mixed relief than I am glad the media are covering the grim story of poverty in the UK. It’s about time. We may still have a “Government in denial”, but when people are presented with the facts and are able to tally this with what they see around them, then perhaps we can finally get the #ToriesOut.

The Tories have broken Britain.

In the words of Jeremy Corbyn when accepting his Labour Leadership in 2015, “Things can and will change”.


Link to the full UN Report:-



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