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Friday, 16 November 2018

Ministers could reverse 'callous' Universal Credit overnight, UN poverty envoy

Written by Caitlin Doherty

Universal Credit waiting times have "plunged people into misery and despair", according to a United Nations envoy.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said on Friday the introduction of Universal Credit has caused extreme hardship but could easily be reversed by the Government.

He claimed the new benefits policies, which the Government say incentivise paid work, equate to "a punitive, mean-spirited, and callous approach".

But he added: "If a new minister was interested, if a new Government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money."

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, resigned from Theresa May's Cabinet on Thursday citing her disagreement with the Prime Minister's Brexit proposal.

She has not yet been replaced. (Edit: Amber Rudd has just been announced Esther McVey's replacement)

Prof Alston (pictured) made the comments following a 12-day, nine-city trip to the UK.

According to his report, approximately 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, with 1.5 million classes as destitute, and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston also claimed people in poverty will "bear the brunt" of the economic consequences of Brexit.

He said "the impact of Brexit on the British people has not been examined as it should be" adding "those in lower income groups are really going to suffer".

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said Prof Alston's findings should be "a wake-up call for government".

"Child poverty isn't only happening elsewhere, it's here in the UK and it's rising," said Ms Garnham.

"It's in families where parents can't work because of illness or disability but mostly it's in families who work for low wages while costs are rising.

"Wherever you are in the UK, you are never far from seeing the impact of poverty and austerity policies on the most vulnerable."

But a Government spokesman said: "We completely disagree with this analysis. With this Government's changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

"Universal Credit 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."

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said she was "deeply concerned" by the special rapporteur's findings.

"The Government should listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies," said Ms Greenwood. "Universal Credit is failing miserably, leaving families in debt, rent arrears and at risk of becoming homeless. Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household.

"Labour will stop the roll-out of Universal Credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system so that it supports people instead of punishing them."

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