The UN has launched an almighty investigation into the Conservative government, the Guardian has revealed. The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Prof Philip Alston, will lead an inquiry on the impact of the government’s austerity policies over the last eight years.
A previous UN inquiry looked at the government’s treatment of disabled people. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) concluded that the Conservatives had created a “human catastrophe” in the UK.
But the new inquiry will be much more wide-ranging. Given the shocking levels of poverty, homelessness and the dire human rights situation in Britain, it seems unlikely the investigation will yield positive results.
The UK has gone through a period of pretty deep budget cuts first under the coalition and then the Conservatives and I am interested to see what the outcome of that has been… I am also interested to look at what seems to be a renewed debate on all sides about the need to increase spending at least for some of the key programmes.
The probe will be the UN’s first in a western European country in over half a decade. Alston has led inquiries into extreme poverty in Saudi Arabia, China and Ghana in recent years. He also published the findings of his investigation into poverty and inequality in the US in May. Alston accused Donald Trump of “aggressively regressive” policymaking which amounts to “an across the board attack on those who are living on the poverty line or below it”.
The UN special rapporteur is yet to decide the exact focus of the investigation. But the government’s austerity cuts and their impact on public services will clearly feature. Alston said that in the UK:
Welfare cuts have taken place but there is now an interesting debate on whether they have gone too far and what measures need to be taken to shore up the NHS and other programmes.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell welcomed this particular area of examination. He told the Guardian:
Austerity is a political choice made by Tory-led governments that cut spending on vital public services whilst, at the same time, handing out tax giveaways for giant corporations and the super-rich…
Alston, however, will also invite groups to submit ideas for areas of focus. Housing, work insecurity, in-work poverty, political disenfranchisement, worker protections after Brexit and mental health could be among the issues on the agenda.
Nothing to hide
A government spokesperson seemingly welcomed the probe. They told the Guardian:
The UK has a close working relationship with UN bodies and is committed to upholding the rule of law and rules-based international system. The UK has a standing invitation to all special rapporteurs, and it is UK government policy to accept and facilitate such visits, and to encourage other UN member states to do the same.
The spokesperson also reeled off a list of apparent achievements by the government, such as high employment rates and falling poverty. Studies, however, have drawn quite different conclusions about the impact of government policy. For example, a 2017 report by various universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, found there had been almost 120,000 excess deaths “associated” with cuts since 2010. Experts also predicted up to 100 extra deaths a day between 2017 and 2020.
It’s now up to the UN to draw its conclusions on the Conservative government’s main legacy: austerity. Most people living through it won’t expect the UN to find in favour of the Conservatives’ policies. But unfortunately the government can, and probably will, just dismiss any criticism that it gets.
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