It is difficult to fully describe the horror that is the entrenchment of poverty in the UK. The ongoing crisis has been covered widely by experts, charities, support workers, politicians and think tanks, and the latest report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, is very much the culmination of this damning evidence and the horrific experiences of families all over the country.
Alston compares the UK welfare system to a Dickensian workhouse, and describes child poverty in the UK as a ‘social calamity’. He warns that the glue holding society together is being ‘deliberately removed’ by the Tories.
This Tory UK Government is systematically violating the UK’s human rights obligations, Alston writes, through the ideological austerity policies they are blindly pursuing. Billions of pounds of social security cuts have left local authorities and health services picking up the pieces of intensifying poverty and desperation.
The evidence is tangible. Under the Tories, poverty in the UK has risen dramatically, including child and pensioner poverty.
It should be emphasised that this is no accident. Cuts to spending on social security, in particular those announced by George Osborne’s infamous 2015 Budget, have shamefully targeted austerity at those already living below or close to the poverty line.
Amongst other things, the Tories have administered the four year benefit freeze, the two-child cap on child tax credits, the rape clause, the benefit cap, and cut benefits for disabled people looking for work – some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
To add insult to injury, we have witnessed the creeping roll-out of Universal Credit over the past six years, which has further exacerbated the damaging cuts and waiting times that are pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution. This, as Mr Alston points out, ‘is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes’.
Yet, day after day, UK Government ministers obstinately refuse to acknowledge the turmoil their policies are causing. The most recent denial came from the Chancellor, who said he did not accept the UN’s findings, and rejected that ‘vast numbers of people’ are ‘facing dire poverty’ in the UK. To deny such a thing, in the face of such overwhelming evidence from some of the foremost agencies in the field, is not only without any modicum of compassion, it is rhetoric ground in denial and must continue to be challenged at every opportunity.
It is difficult not to despair in the face of such brazen ignorance. It raises the question: what is the UK Government’s destitution threshold? We know that people have taken their own lives after having their benefits sanctioned. We know people have turned to sex-work for survival because they are unable to make ends meet under Universal Credit. We know that women have been forced to declare they are survivors of rape in order to qualify for Child Tax Credits under the abhorrent ‘rape clause’. What further horror must people endure before the UK government decides ‘enough is enough’?
These are not the policies of a ‘civilised’ country, and they are certainly not what the people of Scotland voted for.
Currently, the Scottish Parliament has control over only 15% of all social security matters. Universal Credit, the two-child cap, the benefits freeze, and cuts to disability benefits are all decisions that have been taken by the Tories – a party who have no mandate in Scotland.
The Tories are intent on dismantling our social security system, and we can only repair this damage with the full-powers of independence. Scotland wants something different; it wants an inclusive social security system based on compassion, fairness, dignity and respect and that is what the SNP Government in Scotland will continue to build.
This article originally appeared in Politics Home.