UN report compares working conditions in UK to nineteenth century

Rishi Sunak faces question on NHS crisis

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Mr Alston, also a lawyer, gathered his evidence across an intensive two week trip around the UK in November. Along the way he also received over 300 submissions.

His report forund that while the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, that around 14 million people currently live in poverty; the equivalent of close to one in five people currently living in the country. 

Mr Alston said damage had been done after cuts to public services, local authorities, and benefits by the ruling Conservative government conducted after they came to power in 2010.

He wrote: “British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping.

“And elevate the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest economic levels of British society.”

Some of Mr Alston’s most fiery criticism was directed at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Of the department, he wrote: “It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens.”

He wrote that they had chosen to do this “rather than seeking to respond creatively and compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity in an age of deep and rapid transformation brought about by automation, zero-hour contracts and rapidly growing inequality”.

In common with other observers, he also said the UK government was in a “state of denial” with ministers insisting everything was going to plan.

If this is the case then with the current situation in the NHS, if there is a plan, it is a very questionable one. 


This isn’t the first time the government has received scathing criticism today.  Amid reports he told NHS staff to work harder to earn their pay rise, Steve Barclay and other government officials have come under fire from union bosses as they try to avoid further strikes.

In reponse, the Unite Union’s Onay Kasab said his comments had been “an insult” and that healthcare staff were “working well beyond their contracted hours anyway” at a time when the NHS is short over 100,000 staff.

Mr Kasab added: “This isn’t a factor we’re talking about. We’re talking about pepole who are working well ebyond their contracted hours anyway just ot get the job done as they care so much.”

His comments reflect the metaphor used by Mr Alston in his report, one which the Government says is “barely believable” adding that UN data shows the UK “is one of the happiest places in the world to live”.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This report is a shocking indictment of the brutal cuts to social security introduced by Conservative-led governments since 2010 and the deeply flawed, punitive system that they have created.”

In response to the report, Stoke North Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis commented: “This is yet more woke leftwing nonsense from the United Nations. In the UK, we have a very supportive welfare system, which is one of the reasons so many illegal economic migrants want to come here. An organisation like the UN, which until recently had the Iranian government on its women’s rights committee, really needs to start looking at where the real problems are in the world instead of peddling this sort of rubbish.”

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While also laying into the Government, the report also laid out some recommendations for how the situation could be improved including reevaluating privatisation and reversing “regressive measures” targeting benefits. He also urged the restoration of local government funding.

Professor Alston ended his report concluding: “The philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010. The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal ‘cure’ for poverty. But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the Government chose not to adjust course.

“Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available…

“As Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well off to lives that are ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. “As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.”

With rising inequalities in the UK amid a range of crises, the UN report is a poor school report on the current state of the UK.

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