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    UN: UK's ‘Harsh' Austerity Measures Violate Britons' Human Rights

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    A United Nations report published on Wednesday regarding poverty in the UK has concluded that the government's continued use of austerity measures put in place in the late 2000s is creating a "harsh and uncaring" environment for residents struggling to make ends meet.

    Despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, the report found that 14 million UK residents live in poverty, and that some 1.5 million of them were unable to afford basic essentials in 2017.

    The report lays the blame on austerity measures implemented in 2010 by then-British Prime Minister David Cameron, which saw officials slash government jobs, welfare benefits and billions in public spending. It goes on to note that even after the British economy recovered, the conservative government refused to change course.

    "[The government] doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalization, stigmatization, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights," reads the report published by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

    "The basic message, delivered in the language of managerial efficiency and automation, is that almost any alternative will be more tolerable than seeking to obtain government benefits."

    "Considering the significant resources available in the country and the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have resulted in significantly worse outcomes, the policies pursued since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country's human rights obligations," the report states.

    It added that the UK government "has remained determinedly in a state of denial," as local authorities in communities attempt to "mitigate" the effects of government policies.

    In speaking with various individuals and families across the UK during a 12-day period in November 2018, Alston found that many residents depended on food banks and couch surfed because they were homeless, and that some opted to sell sex for money or shelter.

    Alston also found that those with disabilities were informed they needed to go back to work, whether or not doctors had advised against it, in order to maintain their benefits. Others could not afford both food and utility bills, and were forced to choose between cold or hunger.

    The report notes that the UN official heard "story after story" of individuals who were unable to cope with their hardships and instead looked to suicide as a way out.

    "The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities' budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings," it reads.

    "The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos."

    The report states that the UK's overall child poverty rate will reach almost 40% in the next two years should current policies stay in place. "For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain would not just be a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster rolled into one," it reads.

    Although the report does mention that government officials have offered a "mixed response" to previously published preliminary findings by Alston, the contents of the concluding report haven't exactly been welcomed with open arms.

    According to the Guardian, Amber Rudd, the UK's secretary for work and pensions, is planning to file a formal complaint with the UN over Alston's report on the grounds that it is "politically biased and did not do enough research."

    The welfare policies of Rudd's department were specifically called out in the report by Alston, who noted that the agency appeared to be "tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens."

    Rudd is reportedly seeking guidance from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office on how to best respond to Alston's remarks, the Guardian reported.

    A spokesperson for Rudd's department told the BBC that the report "is a barely believable documentation of Britain" and that "it paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty."

    Alston fired back at the news of Rudd's complaint on Twitter, writing, "Rather than addressing the substance, the UK government has sought to distract from the troubling findings of this report by misrepresenting the process behind it."

    "This is disappointing, if predictable," he added.

    The final report is expected to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on June 27.


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