United Nations Poverty envoy says callous policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering

“The government said it “completely disagreed” with Alston’s analysis. …”

Well, it would – wouldn’t it!

“The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

It took a UN envoy to hear how austerity is destroying lives | Aditya Chakrabortty

In a coruscating 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year, the eminent human rights lawyer said that in the UK “poverty is a political choice”.

He told a press conference in London:

Austerity Britain was in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights. “If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said how can we make this system work for men and not for women they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place,” he said.

The limit on benefits payments to only the first two children in a family was “in the same ball park” as China’s one-child policy because it punished people who had a third child.

Cuts of 50% to council budgets were slashing at Britain’s “culture of local concern” and “damaging the fabric” of society.

The middle classes would “find themselves living in an increasingly hostile and unwelcoming society because community roots are being broken”.

The government said it “completely disagreed” with Alston’s analysis. …”


“Funding [loan] agreed for Axminster relief road that will end gridlock in the town centre

This loan of £7 million is being taken out based on an expectation that developers will pay it back … good luck there councillors, especially as developers are Crown Estates and … drum roll or scary music … PERSIMMON!


Guardian letters on austerity and extreme poverty

• Outrage, anger, despair, shame, impotence: the feelings aroused by Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (It took a UN envoy to hear how austerity is destroying lives, 14 November). The truths consequent on the savage, unnecessary, uncaring cuts to public services are not hidden away but confront us daily. Welfare benefits slashed, millions dependent on food banks. Libraries, museums, childcare centres, youth clubs, swimming pools consigned to the scrapheap; road repairs and park budgets cut, bus routes terminated. In Darley Dale a helpful notice tells us that the lavatory is closed and the nearest one is 2.1 miles away.

The true story is that of a government that has chosen private profit over civic services, while it wreaks an assault on the services that make towns and communities good places to live. In a 2015 Guardian article about benefits, sanctions and food banks, Ken Loach called for “public rage” and spoke about “conscious cruelty”.

The word “austerity” has allowed the government to disguise both intent and outcome. In its original meaning “austerity” suggests plainness and simplicity, a cosy view of cutting back, perhaps a mythical wartime pulling together. “Austerity” is now a weasel word used to promote the Tory rhetoric that there is no alternative, that anaesthetises public anger as we are led to believe that there is no choice. There must be a new script. We should ban the word.

Beyond that, how do we create the public rage? We must not be bystanders. Somehow we have to trust that petitions, marches, demonstrations, letters to MPs and local papers and involvement with political parties will change the climate. We have to build in our own communities and in daily conversations a challenge to the dialogue of cuts as economic necessity, to work to expose the hypocrisy and devastation of central government’s assault. We have to sing loud that deep into our hearts, “I do believe, we shall overcome, some day.” Together we can, we must, we will change our worlds.
Emeritus Professor Roger Clough
Darley Dale, Derbyshire

• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article about Philip Alston’s visit to the UK was devastating to read. Government politicians have ignored the impact of austerity. They have lied about it, joked about it and refused to measure it. They have shoved the blame on to its victims and the responsibility on to charities that buckle under the strain. These actions represent a deliberate attempt to break people’s “dependency” on the state. Now, anyone who is sick, disabled, unemployed or in any other way vulnerable is expected to fend for themselves. Through a punitive sanctions regime and the inbuilt hardships of universal credit, the state itself has become an instrument of punishment rather than support.

If our “decade of shame” is not to become permanent, we need a public debate about the welfare state – one that recognises that a strong society is one in which everyone is strong. We will all be weakened if we continue to watch as people sink under the weight of this government’s monstrous political choices.
Jane Middleton

• The UN inquiry by Professor Philip Alston might well prove one of the most significant events in British civil society this decade, as Aditya Chakrabortty suggests. Let’s hope he will report on the chaos in UK housing policy created by the application of extreme free-market principles to the inevitably limited supply of land in our British isles. Since 1979 rich and powerful institutions, national and international speculators have increased the unearned value of UK land over and over again. The Thatcher government bought votes by encouraging bank lending for, and the taxpayer funding of, home ownership, so further inflating land values. From 1997 Blair and Brown did not dare touch the housing market for fear it would lose value and they would lose votes.

The focus on home ownership has continued since 2010, as always to the detriment of tenants. The consequence can be seen in the rising number of tenant families in temporary accommodation – up 65% to 79,880 since 2010. Here in Haringey the council is unable to permanently house 4,400 such families without forcing them into the private sector, so increasing their rent from £90 a week for two bedrooms to at least £300 a week for a private landlord. The dictatorship of the UK free market forces levers low-income tenants towards rent-induced poverty, the food bank, mental and physical ill health, and an early death in the deprived Tottenham wards.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• I note that, although the two-week visit by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights includes several UK cities (Report, 5 November), there is only one non-metropolitan coastal area included, Jaywick Sands. Will any rural contexts be considered? Our experience is that the pain of austerity is felt as keenly in areas which, behind a beautiful and serene facade, hide many who are struggling with low wages, reduced benefits, isolation and unaffordable or nonexistent transport.
Rob Pearce
Dorset Equality Group

• Taunton? A “centre of fake nutritional excellence” (Suzanne Moore, G2, 6 November)? My dear, we haven’t even a Waitrose, an aspiration turned down some years ago on the grounds that we are “the wrong demographic”. Visit Taunton and see for yourself the preponderance of people suffering from eight years of austerity. You’ll notice poverty and homelessness aplenty, pale, pasty, stressed-out faces, a main street full of betting shops, fast food outlets, and boarded-up chain stores. I used to joke that at the end of our road we had two pawn shops and two porn shops. Things have only got much worse.
Margaret Markwick
Taunton, Somerset

• How convenient that Esther McVey decided to resign over Brexit. Now she needn’t meet UN special rapporteur Philip Alston, who is due to report his findings on poverty in the UK. What craven behaviour from a politician with no integrity.
Susan Clements
Newcastle upon Tyne”

DCC overspend jumps to nearly £10 million

“Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council, said he wanted to reassure councillors, staff and taxpayers about the impact of the savings strategy, saying it was ‘tight and good housekeeping’.

He said: “We are making sure that we have our house in order rather than panicking and walking over a cliff and the range of measures we are implementing we have looked at very carefully.

“There are pressures across the country and after around eight or nine years of extreme pressures on budgets, it has to come a point when we reach the end of the road on spending, and that will come in the next two or three years.”


Pity the children of Sidford

“Pollution from diesel vehicles is stunting the growth of children’s lungs, leaving them damaged for life, a major study has found.

The research, conducted with more than 2,000 school children in London, is the first such study in a city where diesel pollution is a significant factor, and has implications for cities around the world. It also showed that charges to deter polluting trucks from entering the city did reduce air pollution a little but did not reduce the harm to children’s lungs. …”


Devon £8m overspend, Suffolk £11.2 million overspend – dominoes fall

Devon is playing its cards close to its chest about cuts:

Suffolk proposes:

A 2.9% council tax rise next year
A halt to road sign cleaning, with only mandatory road markings being maintained
Reducing housing-related support for people in their own tenancies
A review of arrangements with district and borough councils for grass cutting and weed treatment services
Removal of the Citizens Advice Bureau grant
Reducing the legal, training and equipment costs at trading standards
Streamlining running costs in educational psychologists service, although there will be no cuts to frontline services