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UK Government must reverse austerity policies, says Communities Secretary

Aileen Campbell spoke out after the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights published a ‘damning’ report.

Philip Alston (left), the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in North Belfast during an official visit to the UK in November 2018 (UN/PA)
Philip Alston (left), the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in North Belfast during an official visit to the UK in November 2018 (UN/PA)

The UK Government must recognise the damage caused by austerity and change course on policies that are causing poverty and inequality to rise, the Scottish Government has said.

It follows the publication of a report by the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, on poverty in the UK.

In his report, Mr Alston said the UK had violated its human rights obligations through sustained and widespread cuts to social support.

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Prof Alston hearing from children in Scotland during an official visit to the UK in November 2018 (UN/PA)

He said austerity policies introduced in 2010 “continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences”.

Prof Alston, who visited cities and towns across the UK in November last year, also warned mitigation of austerity by the devolved administrations is “not sustainable”.

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said the Scottish Government agreed with his recommendations.

“Today’s report from the United Nations is a devastating analysis of the UK Government’s austerity programme,” Ms Campbell said.

“The Scottish Government agrees with the special rapporteur’s assessment that the UK Government must reverse the many policies it has pursued that are increasing poverty and inequality and imposing regressive measures like the benefits freeze and two-child cap.

“In Scotland alone, UK Government welfare cuts are expected to lead to a reduction in social security spending of £3.7 billion in 2020-21.”

Ms Campbell added the Scottish Government welcomed Prof Alston’s focus on the problems caused by Universal Credit, as well as highlighting an in-work poverty rise.

Scottish Greens Parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone called for the UK’s reforms of welfare to end after the “damning” report.

Polly Tolley, of Citizens Advice Scotland, agreed with the report’s call for an end to the five-week wait for Universal Credit.

She said people are able to seek help at their local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Ms Tolley said: “This is a timely and important report which reflects the reality of what we are seeing through our services across Scotland.

“The Citizens Advice network in Scotland helps hundreds of thousands of people each year and we have seen first-hand the impact of rising poverty in our communities, driven by a combination of changes to social security policy, low paid and insecure work as well as a rising cost of living.

“There is no single government policy that can solve poverty, we need to see a coordinated approach backed up by the right levels of investment.”

The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live DWP

The Department for Work and Pensions branded the report a “barely believable documentation of Britain” and said it painted a “completely inaccurate picture” of its approach to tackling poverty.

It said it was spending £95 billion a year on welfare and maintains a state pension system that supports people into retirement.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live and other countries have come here to find out more about how we support people to improve their lives.

“Therefore this is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here.

“It paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty.

“All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the National Living Wage, so people earn more in work.”

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