A recent UN study has highlighted “misery” inflicted on the British people by “callous” policies aimed at social re-engineering. These statements come following the two-week fact finding mission to the UK by Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Alston was somewhat more positive about Scotland than he was in his overarching analysis, claiming that the devolved state was “frantic” to mitigate the worst features of the government’s benefits policy. He claimed Scotland has “repeatedly urged the government to halt the rollout” of Universal Credit, and have paid the Department for Work and Pensions to allow more flexibilities for their claimants, counteracting a key issue of Universal Credit by allowing claimants to receive payments more frequently. He also noted that these attempts to improve the impacts of austerity by devolved governments are happening despite “significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue.”
“Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending about £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity. And unlike England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have continued to provide access to welfare funds for emergency hardships.”
Upon speaking to members of the Scottish Government, Alston was told that they have reached the limit of what they can afford to do to protect the scottish public from austerity, having had to take money from other services in order to sustain the scheme.
In his summary of Scotland’s living standards, Alston noted that despite having the lowest poverty rates in the UK, Scotland still has the lowest life expectancy and some of the highest suicide rates. He spoke to a local councillor in Glasgow’s North East who told him “48% of people are out of work, life expectancy is six years lower than the national average, about half of families are single-parent households, and about a third of households lack an internet connection.”
There were also concerns expressed by people who spoke to Alston about “a general lack of awareness of local welfare funds for people in crisis”. He noted a large discrepancy in the way applications for these emergency funds were handled; “in Glasgow only 3% of local welfare fund applications were decided in a day, whereas other councils managed to decide these claims within a day 99% of the time.”
There were some positive assessments, however, as Alston commented on the schemes Scotland already has in place to tackle poverty, including “Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan”. He also noted that the newly bestowed taxation powers of the devolved government will allow opportunity for improvement when it comes to social security.