THE United Nations committee on economic and cultural rights recently published a highly damning report.
It confirmed that the British government’s austerity measures are indeed in breach of its obligations to the human rights of citizens living in Britain.
Although mentioned in the mainstream press, it hasn’t been given enough attention. It’s an important issue that should not be swept under the carpet.
The report considers a number of areas, all of which are drastically important to our everyday lives and the lives of the poorest.
It covers factors such as, foodbanks, unemployment rates, the housing crisis, mental health care and discrimination against migrants and disabled people.
In its report the committee reminds the government of its obligations and actively calls upon it to make the changes required.
Sadly I fear that this has fallen upon deaf ears, as no official acknowledgement has been made, let alone a rush to tackle these issues.
The UN committee is “seriously concerned” about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures forced upon the poorest in Britain are having to already disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups. To put it simply, people are suffering unnecessarily.
These are people who already had a bad deal in life and therefore can see no way of getting out of the situation that they are in.
Many are ill or disabled, some have children and some are single parents. These people are repeatedly being targeted time and time again. It’s an endless circle of suffering and poverty.
The committee also emphasised problems with welfare reform. It said it was “deeply concerned” about the various changes in entitlement to and cuts in social security benefits that are constantly being made.
These include the reduction of the household benefit cap, the four-year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits.
The committee goes on to say that this will deeply affect “women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children.”
Despite the constant demonisation by the press, which labels these people scroungers, the fact is that they are suffering and children are suffering. So much so that schools are concerned. This used to be unheard of.
The report goes on to tackle other issues such as the unemployment rate, the high incidence of part-time, zero-hours contract work, people forced into precarious self-employment, the “persistent discrimination” against migrant workers,
the national minimum wage, the new Trade Union Act, limited availability of affordable childcare, the increased risk of poverty for disabled people, ethnic minority people, single parents and families with children, the lack of affordable, accessible housing, the significant rise in homelessness and the ever-increasing university tuition fees.
However, I would like to focus on one issue, the issue of sanctions relating to benefits and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by a benefit sanction.
Sanctions are handed out far too freely by the government’s DWP workers. They are given to mostly innocent people who are trying their best and are quite often not fit for work.
Claimants aren’t given any due process and often don’t have an explanation as to why a sanction was imposed.
They will often find out about a sanction when go to their bank and see that their regular payment has not been paid.
They will then not have any access to any justice, except from the overworked and underpaid staff at their local Citizens Advice Bureau, a welfare rights office or equivalent. Not everyone is so lucky and many don’t have access to these services, nor do they know how to challenge a sanction.
The DWP does not inform people who’ve been sanctioned unfairly about how to do this and many just take themselves off the system.
In some tragic cases people can’t take any more and commit suicide, some are so hungry and cold that they die of related illnesses.
The report is indeed damning and is a very sad indictment of how the government treats the most vulnerable in society.
It has continued to punish those most in need, while others gain massive wealth at the cost of the poorest.
It’s easy to become distracted by all the news about the referendum, the Tory Party leadership and the infighting in the Labour Party. But what I can say is this: we need to stand united as a country and continue to highlight the fact that these very issues exist, that the situation is bad enough to be condemned by the UN, a fact that we should be ashamed of.
We need to educate others, share this report, lobby MPs, help those who are affected and who are suffering. Let’s show this government that we are all in this together and we will not stand by while the government commits acts like this any more.