In a Sunday interview with The Guardian, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter stated that the poverty levels in the UK are “simply not acceptable” and that the UK government is violating international law. The UN poverty envoy is due to visit the country later this week, where he will urge the government to increase welfare spending.
In the interview, De Schutter emphasized that the UK has obligations under international law to provide social protections, including an adequate standard of living. However, this duty is being broken as welfare payments in the UK lag behind the rising cost of living. De Schutter stated, “£85 a week for adults is too low to protect people from poverty, and that is in violation of article nine of the international covenant on economic, social [and cultural] rights. That is what human rights law says.” He argued that increasing universal credit should be of central importance in order to meet the UK’s international obligations.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected the UN special rapporteur’s comments, arguing that the UK government had not broken international law. The spokesperson went on to say:
[W]e know that households are at least £6,000 a year better off in full-time work than out on benefits. And our record on this is clear – there are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty and there are almost 700,000 fewer children growing up in workless households since 2010.
The spokesperson also stated that the government has “taken unprecedented levels of support post-pandemic in response to high inflation, not least paying half of people’s energy bill.”
De Schutter’s criticism comes as UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman faces scrutiny over her proposals to restrict the use of tents by rough sleepers, saying that many people see it as a “lifestyle choice.” Homeless non-governmental organization (NGO) Crisis called on Braverman to urgently reconsider her proposals, stating, “[S]leeping on the street is not a lifestyle choice. Laying blame with people forced to sleep rough will only push people further away from help into poverty, putting them at risk of exploitation.” The NGO urged her to focus more on housing solutions and support services for those that face homelessness, in addition to increasing housing benefit so that “people can afford their rent.”