“The UN envoy’s visit and report concluding that “Austerity has inflicted misery on people” (Report, 17 November) could not be more important. His confirmation that poverty and humiliation has been heaped upon millions of vulnerable men, women and children by this government has to be a spur to action for us all. As Philip Alston said with great clarity, “in the UK poverty is a political choice”. A deeply shameful one. For once, someone listened to those who are struggling to survive and care for children without homes, healthcare or an income. After all, a personal or health crisis can plunge anyone into poverty.
We can all get caught up in the demands, distractions and problems of our everyday lives (including Brexit), but this reflects on our humanity and it is to our shame if every one of us does not continue to fight against these punitive policies with every fibre of our being. Rising destitution and a generation of children suffering deprivation must never become the new normal. Food banks and practical help are essential in the short term, but we have to achieve change and constantly reject government rhetoric denying the devastating impact of austerity policies and denigrating vulnerable people as “undeserving”. All this while tax cuts are given to the rich. None of us can stand by.
• At last, someone has looked behind the curtain of Brexit Britain and found what really fuelled the anger. It took the UN’s rapporteur just two weeks to see the reality, but Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has consistently failed to highlight this issue as a key factor in the Brexit vote, ignoring the reality that has been obvious for years as wages stagnated and working conditions worsened under Tory austerity policies after the financial crash.
Austerity policies have plunged millions of British people into poverty; even in the prosperous part of London where I live we have several regular beggars and Big Issue sellers, as well as rough sleepers in several doorways and in our church halls, all as a direct result of continuing Tory nastiness.
But let’s not worry, the art market is booming and someone just parted with a few million dollars for some trinkets worn by Marie Antoinette, so some of us have plenty. I wonder where they got it from?
• Your article quotes Philip Alston saying that child poverty in Britain is “not just a disgrace but a social calamity”. I fear that Brexit shenanigans will swiftly drown his voice, but I would nevertheless like to add a caveat to his conclusions. Child poverty is a more palatable way of describing the poverty of parents. This is not just semantics but results in different policies and practice. The former is more likely to lead to stigmatising and humiliating handouts to children, such as free school meals or sanitary provision. If we accept that millions of parents are struggling to do their best for their children then we will seek different solutions, such as a living wage for all (including those under 25) and a benefit system that doesn’t drive people to desperation. It is through adults that we can and must address the poverty of children.
Chief executive, Young Women’s Trust
• It has become all too clear that it is not enough to describe elephants in the room to government ministers who as a matter of policy do not recognise elephants (Editorial, 19 November). The time has come for the anti-poverty lobby to set our own national objectives to relieve the debt, hunger and ill health of impoverished UK citizens. The good health and wellbeing of every citizen in or out of work must become a national priority.
The level of the statutory minimum wage, unemployment benefits and pensions must be set by referring to minimum income standards research, with particular attention given to maternal nutrition. Rents must be controlled. Such policies for preventing poverty-related mental and physical ill health, infant deaths and shortened lives, with adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing, can be paid for by capturing for the public good a small percentage of the large increases in the value of British land. That ought to lead to the abolition of council tax and business rates, and even to a reduction of income tax. Land value is currently captured only for private benefit, much of it by national and international speculators.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• No surprise that Philip Alston has found the government is in denial about the effects of its welfare policies or that it is now dismissive of his findings. But this latest denial only reinforces Mr Alston’s assessment. It is also yet another example of the complete inability of this government to show any understanding or ability to change policies in the light of evidence.
• I have just come back from a session at the local food bank in a small town in Devon. A young homeless man has been sanctioned a whole month’s universal credit (£246). His “crime”: he failed to attend an interview at the jobcentre because he was ill. With him was a friend: sanctioned for 168 days. His “crime”: he started work and failed to let the jobcentre know. They stopped his benefit, but he was still sanctioned.
So the rise in food bank use is nothing to do with universal credit?
• Gateshead council is not the first to find a link between universal credit and suicide (Report, 16 November). Activists have been raising this issue for years now, often carrying a banner listing the names of the dead. Nearly everyone in the mental health field – as well as those who work in social care or for the police – recognises the link between the current benefits system and suicide risk.
There are aspects of universal credit that seem almost designed to produce or exacerbate mental health problems, from the anxious, shame-provoking initial six-week wait which drives so many people to food banks, to the frequent loss of income, to the relentless pressure for even those whho are seriously ill or disabled to display constant work readiness, to the allocation of household income to one person, even if that is someone who has been convicted of domestic and financial abuse. I could go on.
If the government is serious about promoting mental health and preventing suicide, it would scrap universal credit as an urgent priority before more people die. It may only be one factor in a suicide attempt, but that one factor is often the final straw.
Dr Jay Watts
Consultant clinical psychologist
• Thank you for using the front page of Saturday’s Guardian to highlight the findings of the UN’s poverty envoy, particularly as this has featured little elsewhere in the media. Other news including the turmoil over Brexit, though massively important, must not let us lose sight of the harsh realities in the lives of many in our desperately unequal society.
Chapel-en-le Frith, Derbyshire
• Did you pray for forgiveness in church on Sunday, Mrs May? You should hang your head in shame.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex”