Government austerity policy a breach of international human rights, says UN report

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed 'serious concerns' about inequality in the UK

Caroline Mortimer
Monday 04 July 2016 08:53 BST
The report says the new living wage did not keep up with modern standards of living
The report says the new living wage did not keep up with modern standards of living

The British Government's austerity policies are a breach of international human rights, a new report by the UN has warned.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed “serious concerns” about growing inequality in the UK following six years of austerity policies under the current Conservative Government and the Coalition which preceded it.

Based on evidence provided by charities and campaign groups, the body concluded that the regressive nature of policies such as universal credit and the “bedroom tax” meant they breached the UK’s international human rights obligations.

The review is the first of UK policy since 2009, making it the first time Conservative policy has come under scrutiny.

The report’s authors said they were “deeply concerned” about “the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits” which it says disproportionately affect women, young people, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

The study found the new “living wage” of £7.20 per hour still did not provide an adequate standard of living - especially for people living in London - and that the Government was not doing enough to stop people having to rely on foodbanks.

The Government should take steps to reduce the number of people in part time work and relying on “zero hours” contracts, it suggested.

The UK Government is not doing enough to stop people relying on foodbanks 

The report also highlighted a rise in VAT coinciding with a fall in inheritance and corporation tax, meaning the poor are paying comparatively more tax and the rich less.

The Committee recommended the UK adopts a “socially equitable” tax policy and clamps down further on tax avoidance.

It also voiced concerns about “persistent discrimination” against migrant workers.

The report was completed before the UK voted to leave the European Union last week.

Since the vote there has been a 57 per cent spike in the number of reported incidents of hate crime against migrants and ethnic minorities, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

Several people have reported being ordered to “go back where they come” and taunted with shouts of “Out! Out! Out!” following the vote.

Rich getting richer

In Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, there were reports of leaflets saying “Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin” posted the letter boxes of Polish families on the day of the vote.

Simon Duffy, the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, which contributed to the report, said: "The past six years of austerity have seen the UK Government intentionally diminish the rights of its own citizens.

"The Centre for Welfare Reform welcomes the news that the United Nations has strongly criticised the UK Government for these policies - policies that have harmed immigrants, asylum seekers, disabled people and those living in poverty.

"There is no good reason for these ongoing attacks; instead it seems likely that these groups have been targeted simply because they are convenient scapegoats for problems they did not cause."

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, said: “The Committee is right to be deeply concerned about the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social security support, introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act of 2016 and they call upon the Government to reverse the cuts to social security introduced in it."

She added: “It should concern us all that the UN is having to publish a report saying that Government policies are contravening the public’s human rights. The Government must now listen and carry out the basic requirements of comprehensive impact assessments on such important policies.

“The conclusions of the report are deeply worrying and indicate the Government has got some serious work to do.”

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