'The UN expert on extreme poverty has hit back at the new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, after she complained that the tone of his report into the consequences of austerity in the UK was “highly inappropriate”.
Philip Alston urged Rudd to instead follow some of his recommendations to make the welfare system “more humane” rather than dismissing the powerful language in his report examining the impact of cuts and welfare reforms, including universal credit, as “extraordinarily political”, as she did in the Commons on Monday.
Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told the Guardian: “I think that dismissing a report that is full of statistics and first-hand testimony on the grounds that the minister didn’t appreciate the tone of the report rather misses the point. I remain hopeful that Amber Rudd might actually take some of the steps needed to address the worst aspects of the existing approach.”
After a two-week fact-finding trip across the UK, Alston concluded on Friday that the government had inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity. “Poverty is a political choice,” he said.
The 24-page report was roundly dismissed by Conservatives. A government spokesperson said it “completely disagreed” with Alston’s findings, while the junior Brexit minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, told the BBC: “I don’t know who this UN man is, I don’t know where he’s been.”
Mel Stride, a Treasury minister, said he was “rather disappointed” with the picture Alston had painted of Britain, while Rudd attacked “the extraordinary political nature of his language”, which “was wholly inappropriate and discredited a lot of what he was saying”.
People who spoke to Alston for his report have also spoken of their anger at the government’s reaction. Tracey Whitenstall, a woman with three children living on universal credit, met Alston at the Citizens Advice office in Newcastle. She said it was “absolutely appalling [that Rudd] is so ignorant”.'
Read more: Take action rather than criticise, UN poverty expert tells Rudd
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