Britain’s Treatment Of The Poor. UN Investigation into Youth Unemployment, The Disabled, Child Poverty, Funding for Mental Health Services

Second Investigation Launched By UN

The United Kingdom became the first country to face a high-level inquiry by the United Nations committee responsible for oversight of disability rights into charges of “grave or systemic violations” of disabled people’s rights – an investigation which provoked “fury” among Tory MPs. The committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives “reliable information” that such violations have been committed by a country signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its optional protocol. Which it did. This is one investigation focusing on one set of reports of probable abuse by government of its citizens.

In this investigation the United Nations Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is holding separate confidential hearings in the UK as part of an investigation into the effects of welfare cuts, during which it will speak to campaigners, lawyers and service users.

The second is the United Nations’ Committee on the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which has launched an investigation into the impact of government austerity cuts on vulnerable groups more widely, not just the disabled.

This inquiry will attempt to address more than 30 topics on a much broader spectrum. Although such investigations do take place in other modern western countries and typically will include questions on the current gender pay gap, and of course youth unemployment, other subjects of a more urgent need are arising such as the treatment of migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers and trade union rights to name a few.

The investigators will focus on Conservative government reforms since 2010 to see if they have had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in British society i.e. the disabled, child poverty, the reduction of funding for mental health services and how lone parents are fairing. They will also look at the intentions of tax credit cuts and determine if they will increase the economic woes of people struggling at the bottom end of the working environment as living standards for millions continues to decline.

In terms of inequality, out of the 30 OECD countries, the UK is the fourth most unequal and the worst in Europe. Academic Danny Dorling says the last time the best-off took as big a share of all income as they do today was in 1940. The wealthiest people now take home more than double than what they did in 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. The UN are concerned that this wealth distribution is having an impact so great that poverty amongst all less well off groups is rising rapidly.

To that end, the UN investigators will also look at the explosion of food banks.

Last year, Olivier De Schutter (a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), pointed to increases in the number of food banks in developed countries such as the UK, as an indicator that Governments are “in danger of failing in their duty to protect citizens under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” (IESCR). This states that all citizens should have access to an adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.

De Schuttr said:

“Food banks should not be seen as a “normal” part of national safety nets. They are not like cash transfers or food vouchers, to which people in need have a right under developed social security systems. Food banks depend on donations, and they are often run by volunteers: they are charity-based, not rights-based, and they should not be seen as a substitute for the robust social safety nets to which each individual has a right.”

Developed and developing countries alike have a responsibility to dedicate the “maximum available resources” to fighting poverty to fulfil the human rights they have promised their citizens by signing up to treaties and it is here that the United Nations believes Britain is failing in its duties.

Iain Duncan Smith told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that he intends to place job advisors in food banks. This action clearly indicates that government now considers food banks run by volunteers and supported by charities are now an indispensable component of welfare provision. Charitable organisations should reject any assistance by government in this latest announcement that is designed to misinform the public that food banks are somehow supported by government funding. The rise in food banks is a direct result of punitive welfare cuts on societies most needy.

The government have now clearly accepted the clear association of the relentless and embarrassing rise of food banks and damaging welfare policy. A policy that focuses on deliberately delayed payments and the rejection of illness and disabilities via sanctions has led to the worlds sixth wealthiest economy killing 80 of its most vulnerable people a month. Death has now become a part of the British welfare system and the UN is concerned.

In Tim Lambert‘s “A Brief History of Poverty In Britain” it is interesting to note:

“At the end of the 17th century it is estimated that half the population of Britain could afford to eat meat every day. In other words about 50% of the people were wealthy enough or at least reasonably well off. Below them about 30% of the population could afford to eat meat between 2 and 6 times a week. They were ‘poor’. The bottom 20% could only eat meat once a week. They were very poor. At least part of the time they had to rely on poor relief.”

In a recent study by the British Heart Foundation they found one third of Britain’s population was unable to afford to eat healthily or eat meat once a week.

By an act of 1601 (The Poor Relief Act) overseers of the poor were appointed by each parish. They had power to force people to pay a local tax to help the poor. Those who could not work such as the old and the disabled would be provided for. The overseers were meant to provide work for the able-bodied poor. In the 17th century in many towns wealthy people left money in their wills to provide almshouses where the poor could live. This is not to say that life was good or better, quite the opposite, but it does say something about the mentality of society at the time.

400 years later, it appears the government of today are looking to dismantle this most basic of of socially accepted models.

There are further reductions to welfare on the way. These include in-work benefits and to public services. This self imposed moving goalpost financial ideology is such that its effects falls heaviest on the most vulnerable, whose lifeline funding is considered to be a disposable income by George Osborne.


Articles by: Graham Vanbergen

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