UN report "should be a stain on the conscience” of the UK

Senior Green MEP Keith Taylor says that a damning United Nations' report on austerity in Britain “should be a stain on the conscience” of the UK government.

The senior Green politician believes the report by the UN's poverty envoy is "a dismal vindication of those who have condemned the “failed ideological austerity project for almost a decade."

In the report, Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, concluded that the UK government has inflicted “great misery” on the British public with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity.

That was the main conclusion of Alston after a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK.

He said even though the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy that levels of child poverty were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

Alston said about 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials,citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,”  said Alston.

Reacting to the report, Taylor said, "The Greens have always seen through the government's austerity agenda; we never promised austerity-lite, like Labour, nor facilitated the Tories' austerity-max, like the Lib Dems. It was clear from the very beginning that this last decade of misery inflicted on the British people was driven by a political ideology intent on punishing the poorest and most vulnerable."

"So many millions of lives have been wrecked by the callous lie that austerity was necessary. So many of our precious public services have been stripped to the bone or sold off just to line the pockets of the already rich and wealthy. This report should be a stain on the conscience of each and every MP that has traipsed through the lobbies time and time again to back the government's austerity agenda."

"Notwithstanding the rhetoric about-face, the budget confirmed that austerity is far from over, despite the evidence of the destruction it is wreaking in our communities across the country. Will the Conservative government and their co-conspirators feel shame? They certainly should, but I fear we have entered a post-shame political world. The successive and abusive governments that have pushed this cruelty on their own people, all the while telling them it was for their own good, will not be judged kindly by the history books."

Taylor has published a series of reports looking at the rise in the number of people relying on foodbanks in the South East of England, said to be the wealthiest part of the country.

His comments about the impact of austerity were echoed by other MEPs at a press conference on last week at the European Forum conference in Bilbao.

Ernest Urtasun, a Spanish Green MEP, and German deputy Gabriele Zimmer, leader of the GUE/NGL group in parliament, spoke of the trend to “turn away from the neo-liberal austerity policy” which, the deputies said, had been carried out “against the wishes of the majority of the population in Europe.”

Zimmer called for “the defense of a Social Europe” that she says “reinforces public services.”

Both MEPs said there was a need to “guarantee decent housing, health, education, employment and social security for all people.”

Urtasun added, “We have to build a real alternative against these anti-social and militarist policies of this European Union.”

Meanwhile, a new policy paper from the Policy Network think tank says that Portugal and Spain may offer an “alternative” to austerity.

The paper says, “In November 2015, a new Portuguese government came to power. Now, three years on, Portugal is embodying a historic experiment of a left-wing government under the leadership of Prime Minister António Costa. Challenging the previous government's programme of austerity, a new leaf has been turned and a new trajectory of public investment has been embarked upon.

Portugal is proving that a model of effective public investment can boost growth, promote private investment, and improve life chances.

Elsewhere, a Council of Europe report says that austerity in Greece has “violated” the right to health access for the country’s citizens. In the report, Dunja Mijatovic, the CoE's commissioner for human rights, said Greeks are still suffering from the aftermath of international bailouts and imposed economic structural reforms.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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