Originally posted as a blog for Inside Housing on May 22.
Not much in today’s report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty will surprise anyone who has worked in housing over the last decade.
The coruscating criticism of universal credit, the benefit cap, the benefits freeze, the under-occupation penalty and all the other welfare ‘reforms’ seen since 2010 arrives at a time when we have almost become immured to their impact on tenants in general and lone parents and disabled people in particular.
And it was only last week that the latest Homelessness Monitor from Crisis showed the effect of all that on the wider housing system, giving social landlords an incentive not to rent to the poorest people and driving them into a private rented sector in which housing benefit no longer covers their rent.
Yet the final report from Professor Philip Alston is still a shocking reminder of dire consequences that he says are ‘obvious to anyone who opens their eyes’ and of a government response that hovers between hostility, indifference and complacency.
Part of this is due to the Special Rapporteur’s vivid turn of phrase about what he calls ‘the systematic immiseration of millions’. Some choice examples include:
- ‘Much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.’
- ‘The driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering – a dramatic restructuring of the relationship between people and the State.’
- ‘The British welfare state is gradually disappearing behind a webpage and an algorithm, with significant implications for those living in poverty.’
- ‘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.’
But what really struck me reading this final report was how completely he skewers the government’s response to criticism.
Originally posted on November 19 on my blog for Inside Housing.
With unintended irony the government has responded to a United Nations report accusing it of being ‘in denial’ about extreme poverty by denying that there is a problem.
The last time a UN official visited Britain and had the temerity to criticise government policy it sparked a furious row on the Today programme.
Ministers dismissed Raquel Rolnik, the special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, as ‘the woman from Brazil’ and ‘an absolute disgrace’ ad accused her of producing ‘a misleading Marxist diatribe’.
This time around there was no real row about ‘the man from Australia’, no formal complaint to the UN secretary-general and the Today programme ignored Professor Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Whether that reflects changed editorial priorities at the BBC, a ministerial determination not to rise to the bait or simply the way that Brexit sucks away all the oxygen from other news remains to be seen.
However, Professor Alston’s report published in London on Friday is if anything even more damning that the one produced by Ms Rolnik.