So Do We Want To Know What Britain Is Really Like For 14 Million Of Its Citizens?

Last week, 16 November 2018, Professor Philip Alston, international lawyer and UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights made his statement on the shameful state of Britain. He began by pointing out that the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, yet one fifth of its population live in poverty. Of these, 1.5 million are destitute. The reasons for this, he says, are largely ideological, and government ministers are so fixed on their agendas, they are refusing to acknowledge the evidence presented to them, or acknowledge the consequences of their policies. The problems, Professor Alston states, are set to grow worse, and especially for the most vulnerable: CHILDREN.

14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.  For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

Amber Rudd, the new Work and Pensions Secretary dismissed the report on the basis that its tone was ‘highly inappropriate’. Philip Alston’s response, as covered by the Guardian, was to tell her to take action rather than criticise.

You can judge Professor Alston’s tone in this introduction to his statement:

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

You can read his full statement on Britain HERE

And his 2017 statement on the United States is HERE


Many thanks to Dear Kitty. Some Blog for drawing my attention to this video.

60 thoughts on “So Do We Want To Know What Britain Is Really Like For 14 Million Of Its Citizens?

    1. I find her response astonishing. Though of course it would be inconvenient if the British suddenly realised that austerity was not necessary at all. That we’ve been lied and lied to in order to cover up the banking disgrace, which of course continues – business as usual.

  1. Growing up in the early 60’s we never had much. Mum and Dad worked every hour they could to feed and clothe us and we never relied on the state. As I grew up my philosophy was ‘if I can’t afford it, don’t get it’. I still use this mantra. Unfortunately there are those who want it handed to them on a plate. They have cars, fancy tvs and holidays but can’t afford food or rent
    For those who are, due to no fault of their own, really struggling we must do more but I feel the statistics can be misleading and those who are able to work should do, not rely on hand outs.

    1. Your growing up experience echoes mine. We particularly noticed the boom in get-rich UK during the early ’90s when on home leave from Kenya. We began not to recognise the UK we had left in early ’92. But as to benefits – the system appears to be so draconian that it’s very unlikely to be supporting those who could otherwise work. The main problem is that people who really need help are not getting it, and there is nowhere to turn to.

      1. Totally agree with your point on those who really need help, but the statistics include those who are too lazy to help themselves. Many times in my life I have been unemployed and in the system, and it can be downright humiliating and soul destroying, but I kept on and found work. At times we only had enough to pay the bills but didn’t give in and what we have now is ours. As I said there are a great many who think they should have all the benefits without lifting a finger. If these malingerers are removed from the equation then the real needy could receive the proper help.

    2. I have to agree with a lot of what Brian (BLHPhotoblog) says about some people being on benefits and not even trying to get work. I had to rely on the state to support me and my young family at a time when Maggie Thatcher was calling all single mums the scum of the earth. It was humiliating and difficult to live on the meagre payments, but I did and I pulled myself up little by little as I loathed being dependent on the state, but I was then and am now, surprised at how many people living on benefits could afford a night or more down at the pub, cigarettes and now mobile phones. Own cars even. And yet claim poverty and visit food banks. And I am sad to say there are some that do cheat the system. If we could really concentrate on helping those who truly are incapable of helping themselves then that would be a major step forward, but whilst there are people who would rather live on benefits than work for only a few more quid in their pockets I can’t see how the state can afford to sustain benefits at the level they have been doing.

      1. Your past experiences sound truly dire, Jude (and Brian), and all great credit to you for rising above such difficulties. But Thatcherism is alive and thriving, and if anything conditions are now worse for single mums. There’s a cut off for benefit at 2 children for starters, so tough if you’ve been abandoned with 3 or more. Also it seems the present benefits system doesn’t allow for much scrounging. Punitive measures are applied at a drop of a hat. The system, I think is run by private agency. Also one of the biggest segments of the poor in Britain are those who actually have jobs – the impoverished employed – the conditions and pay of their employment not covering basic living expenses. I also gather from a chum who works with a housing charity that anyone trying to claim universal credit would need a degree to get through the claim form. Many people simply give up and don’t claim.

      2. Well that would certainly have had an impact on me as I had 4 youngsters! Didn’t get much for the youngest though. I agree that people who are in work should be better off, even if only slightly, I worked part-time to begin with (left uni during a recession) but could claim the same amount in benefits. As I earned more the benefits decreased until I wasn’t claiming any. No better off financially, but a whole lot mentally. On the note of forms – try filling in one for Attendance Allowance! I think they are all meant to put you off from claiming. No wonder elderly folk are struggling to get by.

      3. Attendance allowance forms are a nightmare, I agree. And then all the hoo-hah to get a disabled parking sticker on behalf of a nearly 96-year old, sight/mobility challenged MIL.

  2. This is a national disgrace. And meanwhile we have the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson dominating the national debate. There is a disconnect between those how have and those who haven’t. Those who have believe that their position is down to their own merits and accomplishments, when really it was luck that they were born into it. Being on benefits is a dehumanising experience and makes you become the disenfranchised and hopeless person the media portrays. It is time for compassionate capitalism, but I don’t know how we’re going to get there.

    1. It would seem that the welfare state is being totally dismantled, and four fifths of us wouldn’t know because we have been fortunate enough not to have need of it. This was Thatcher policy all along – ‘there’s no such thing as society’. One big step forward would be to repatriate all the tax haven loot, and institute tax justice.

  3. Why is it that there are those who cannot see the suffering of others while there are others who cannot ignore it? I have been puzzling over this in America, also. Some of our leaders (especially one) lack empathy for other humans, other living things and nature. It is like they are blind. How does this happen and how can it be fixed? Is it an entitlement philosophy? It seems only their own wants matter. This is not what civilization is about. I might add that there is ONLY ONE world and it is getting smaller(so to speak). I have been concerned about this. Bless all of you in your struggles.

    1. Many thanks for all those heartfelt thoughts. I suppose one problem is that not enough of us are sufficiently engaged with the democratic process, and the wrong people are voted into positions of power. There also seem to be problems with the actual system on both sides of the Atlantic. But yes we are overdosed on a sense of entitlement among the elite. Like all abusers they are cunning and work hard to get into positions where they can most take advantage for their own ends. And all the time present themselves as public servants.

  4. Thanks so much for posting this Tish. I seldom watch long videos, but this was compelling. Prof Alston’s report summary was both excellent and depressing, but I was especially impressed with how he handled the questions.

    It should be astonishing that a govt minister could dismiss the report in such a way, but sadly, i’m not surprised. His point early on about the ideological basis of much policy was key. The “morality” of the early Victorians springs to mind. It’s a wonder no-one’s suggested creating workhouses (built and run by private e contractors of course).

    1. You took the very thought from my mind about workhouses. It occurred to me earlier today. And yes of course. It would be run by private contractors. As to Prof Alston, I too was impressed by his decorous and genial fielding of some loaded questions.

      1. I keep thinking of the Santayana quote; “those who do not read history are condemned to repeat it” and wondering how Dickensian things have to get before the pendulum swings back. Perhaps Marx will prove to be right after all — just a bit out in his timing.

      2. I do find myself moving more swiftly leftwards lately. I remember reading Engels accounts of the Manchester squalor. Today many people still seem to be living in unspeakable housing.

      3. I know what you mean. I studied 19th century history at university and sometimes I feel you could swap out the readings on poverty then for conemporary accounts and no-one would notice.
        When Prof Alston was talking about the strange lack of official data I was thinking where are Booth and Rowntree when you need them?

  5. I am afraid this is the case in more countries, not to say in many countries. We have similar problems here. “It would seem that the welfare state is being totally dismantled, and four fifths of us wouldn’t know because we have been fortunate enough not to have need of it. ” I am one of those lucky ones too, but the welfare state is no longer.

  6. This leaves me almost speechless Tish. I think back to 1960 when I left UK, the swinging 60’s, when England seemed to be a happy place to call home, even though I left it!! But that is how I remember the country and I am horrified to hear that it has sunk so low. I will come back this evening to the video as now, as the sun goes down, I have to water the garden and save it from the hot, blasting winds and 30+ temperature we are having and that are forecast to continue

    1. Hot winds sound dire for the plants, Pauline, so good luck on that front. As to the UK, I agree with you about the ’60s though my own family was pretty poor. I think things really began to unravel here (late ’80s?) when Thatcher and Reagan deregulated banking. It started the horrible financial free-for-all that has been continuing unchecked ever since. But there is also still the matter of the need for tax justice and to stop national wealth being sucked out of the system into off-shore accounts. That apparently started up in the ’60s, at the time Britain was losing its Empire. The leaked Panama Papers revealed some of this enormity,

      1. Those leaked papers are a horrifying read of the underbelly of corruption and how far it has spread. US is certainly the big bad wolf and I can’t see anything ever changing fo the better as the rot has set right in to the fabric of many businesses. My solution? Enjoy the garden, play with art, love family and friends and be so thankful I live in Australia. I’m sure corruption goes on over here and occasionally it will raise its ugly head on the media. But it still seems under control, I think!!!

      2. I wholly understand your response to all this corruption,Pauline. It seems to be so beyond the reach of ordinary citizens to take action on, even if we knew where to begin.

    1. I gather that some with disabilities are having a horrendous time. Their original benefits are being reviewed by non-medics (agency workers), and people are being told they are fit for work when they are not capable of getting there. On top of this, some doctors charge for providing letters with evidence of their patients’ medical conditions. It is a sorry state all round.

  7. This is a very sobering post. I didn’t really appreciate exactly how bad conditions were in the UK. I still believe that we continue to feel the negative impacts of the Thatcher/Reagan years. Their emphasis on ‘trickle down economics’ was, and continues to be, a disaster as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The statistics however are staggering. When the hole is so deep, how can one hope to get out?

    1. And so our government has just appointed a suicide prevention minister. The irony of this is sickening. It would seem the banking pillage fuelled by the Thatcher/Reagan deregulation, and the resulting ‘need’ for ‘austerity’ has been used as a cover to complete Thatcher’s programme to dismantle the welfare state. Our Local Authorities have been brought to their knees, and some struggle to meet their statutory obligations to help people and children in crisis.

      1. A far-right Conservative leader was just elected this year in Ontario with a similar agenda of dismantling social services ‘because we can’t afford it’ while at the same time offering goodies that benefit corporations and the wealthy. Somewhere in the 80s the First World became morally bankrupt.

      2. You’re right – morally bankrupt. And that’s so dismal to hear about Ontario. One always thinks of Canadians being fair, pragmatic and humane. The far right have certainly found the winning buttons to press with the general population – fear of being over-run, and the notion that the money is running out.

  8. Well, what can one expect from those ill-mannered Australians! (at least he sounded Australian) … what an excellent way to deflect from even having to pay attention to the message.

  9. I’m going to reblog this in the morning. It makes a nice bookend matched with today’s 1600-page climate report from the U.S. government. One thousand six hundred pages of really bad news.

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