Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty: WBG responds to his report on UK poverty

Date Posted: Thursday 23rd May 2019

AusterityPovertySocial Security

Responding to the report of Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Women’s Budget Group Director Mary-Ann Stephenson said:

Phillip Alston has highlighted what organisations working on poverty have been saying for years; austerity policies from successive governments have pushed families into poverty. Women, particularly BME women, disabled women and lone parents have been among the hardest hit.

Fourteen million people live in poverty in the UK, a fifth of the population. Of these, 4 million are more than 50% below the poverty line and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford even basic essentials.

As Alston pointed out, these outcomes are a ‘political choice’. Since 2010, austerity policies that will cut social security benefits by £35bn a year by the early 2020s have gone hand in hand with tax cuts that will cost the Treasury £47bn per year by 2021-22. These cuts have forced millions of people into poverty.

The UN report cited research carried out by the Women’s Budget Group together with the Runnymede Trust  which showed that tax and benefit changes have hit the poorest hardest, women harder than men, and black and minority women hardest of all. We also found disabled lone mothers with a disabled child stand to lose over £10,000 a year on average, nearly a third of their income.

At the same time, local authorities have seen a 49% cut to their funding from central government, while demand for public services is rising. This has created a crisis in public services and hits women hardest because we use public services more than men, are more likely to work in the public sector and more likely to have to increase unpaid work when public services disappear.

As the UN report says, ‘it should shock the conscience that since 2011, life expectancy has stalled for women in the most deprived half of English communities, and actually fallen for women in the poorest 20 per cent of the population.’

We hope that his report will act as a much-needed spur to the government to take action. In order to tackle poverty, the Government should:

  • Review Universal Credit and end long waits for payments. Partners should be entitled to split payments. Incentives for second earners and the work allowance need to be improved.
  • Remove arbitrary caps on benefits such as the two-child limit and artificial limits on local housing allowance . Benefits must be based on household need.
  • Invest in social infrastructure (health, education and care services). These services are vital to both the economy and the wellbeing and life chances of individuals.
  • Carry out and publish equality impact assessments of all spending and revenue raising policies.
  • Carry out and publish cumulative equality impact assessments of the budget as a whole and monitor the actual equality impact of policies.
  • Account for the combined impact of different cuts on particularly vulnerable groups in assessments and monitoring.
  • Base local government funding on need. Ensure the funding system serves the needs of the local population.

The Women’s Budget Group submission to the Special Rapporteur can be found here

The Women’s Budget Group report on the causes and consequences of women’s poverty can be found here