Universal Credit (UC) has finally gained international recognition – and it isn’t good.
After a 12-day visit of Britain, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has concluded that the government’s flagship reform of the benefit system has ‘plunged people into misery and despair’.
Speaking at the end of his tour, during which he spoke to Brits living in poverty in cities such as Newcastle, Belfast and Glasgow, professor Philip Alston said ‘if a new government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money’.
And what of the present government trying to run the UK? Well, they’re not having any of it, with a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson saying that ‘we completely disagree with this analysis,’ adding that the changes had led to the highest ever household incomes, record lows of children living in workless households, and one million fewer people living in poverty than in 2010.
In Newcastle, prof Alston visited the country’s largest food bank, which led him to say: ‘The picture I got in Newcastle, in particular, was a pretty grim one. I think local government cuts are draconian and will change the fabric of British society, but particularly in an area like the North East where you don’t have the same degree of economic vibrancy as you have in London, where these policies seem to be being designed.’
According to the special rapporteur’s report 14 million Brits are living in poverty, of which 1.5 million are classed as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.
Prof Alston’s study contains particular scorn for UC, noting: ‘No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than UC. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.’
Though he admits that the plan to rolling six different benefits into ‘makes good sense, in principle’, the professor slammed the DWP for being ‘more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting’.
Responding, the DWP said that UC is ‘supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.
‘We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.’
The special rapporteur’s full statement can be read here.