Poverty causing ‘misery’ in UK

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Poverty causing ‘misery’ in UK, and ministers are in denial, says UN official

Ministers are in a “state of denial” about poverty, a UN expert has said following a 12-day tour of the UK.

Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty, said despite being in the one of the world’s richest countries he had encountered “misery”.

Levels of child poverty are “staggering” and 1.5 million people were destitute at some point in 2017, the Australian said.

The government rejected his analysis, pointing to rising household incomes.

Prof Alston, an expert in human rights law based at New York University, visited locations including Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, London and Newcastle on a fact-finding mission.

He met people affected by poverty as well as government officials, discussing the impact of austerity, changes to benefits and local government funding.

At a news conference in London, he said he witnessed “a lot of misery, a lot of people who feel the system is failing them, a lot of people who feel the system is really just there to punish them”.

Quoting figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, he said that more than 1.5 million people were destitute at some point in 2017, meaning they lived on less than £70 a week or went without essentials such as housing, food, clothing or heating.

A fifth of the population, amounting to 14 million people, are living in poverty, Prof Alston said.