The DWP is now facing its fifth investigation by the UN

The DWP and UN logos
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again facing the prospect of a UN investigation. Because the UN has just received a swathe of complaints about the DWP.

The DWP: facing the UN again

As The Canary‘s Tracy Keeling reported in June:

The UN has launched an almighty investigation into the Conservative government… 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…

Alston will embark on a fact-finding mission to the UK in the autumn…

The probe will be the UN’s first in a western European country in over half a decade.

Alston will visit the UK from 5-16 November. So he laid out specific areas on which he wanted submissions to focus (you can read them here). Of the 30 topics and questions covered, 10 related to welfare; five of those being Universal Credit. Many of the submissions focused on these.

But they also show that many think welfare is key to UK poverty and human rights violations. Because over half the submissions built the DWP into their evidence.

Damning criticism

There have been 280 submissions to the UN, from a variety of groups and campaigners. It has published around 157 of them.

Many of the submissions highlight the increase in food banks, food insecurity and food poverty in the UK. Others cover fuel poverty, health, housing, child poverty and inequality. The issue of the increase in the state pension age for women also came up a lot, notably in the individual submissions. Universal Credit also featured heavily, as per Alston’s request.

There were also references to possible breaches of other UN conventions and covenants, notably the Rights of the Child and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Damning evidence

The Canary studied each of the 157 submissions and found that around 85 (over half) directly mentioned DWP-related issues. They made notes about sanctions, the benefit cap, the benefits freeze and welfare reform.

Of note were the submissions by:

  • Destress.
  • Dr David Webster.
  • University of Ulster.
  • Psychologists for Social Change.
  • Centre for Welfare Reform.
  • Citizens Advice Flintshire.
  • Inclusion London.
  • Reclaim Our Futures Alliance.
  • Welfare Conditionality.
  • WinVisible.

Dismantling the welfare state

WinVisible’s statement was one of the most succinct about the effects of DWP policy:

Austerity policies have targeted sick and disabled people. Relentless cuts and continual changes to provision have brought terrifying insecurity and fear for the future… Sick and disabled people are commonly left destitute from having benefits stopped for various bureaucratic and inhumane reasons. All benefit claimants, women especially, suffer from the focus on ‘back-to-work’ rather than support and recognition of caring work and responsibilities.

The Conservative government aims to dismantle the Welfare State, benefits and services, and end any responsibility for people’s welfare.

We’ve been here before

As campaign group Sustain said:

Four UN Special Rapporteurs; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [UNCRPD]; and the European Committee of Social Rights have all evaluated recent changes to the tax and welfare system and expressed serious doubts about compatibility of these reforms with the UK’s international human rights obligations.

All of these reports have come since June 2016. And as The Canary has reported, all have been scathing in their criticism. But the one from UNCRPD was most damning. It said the DWP and governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. This had led, it said, to a “human catastrophe”. It also accused the government of trying to misrepresent this through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”.

The DWP says…

A DWP spokesperson told The Canary:

The UK has a close working relationship with UN bodies and is committed to upholding the rule of law and [a] 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.

Household incomes have never been higher and there are one million fewer people living in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 300,000 children. Poverty rates are falling while the employment rate is increasing which is really encouraging, and we’re committed to ensuring that every child gets the very best chances in life.


But it is the 47 submissions from ordinary people which are the most damning.

‘Sally’ (not her real name)’ summed up the life that millions of people face:

I am disabled so is my son. We have been faced with a system that bullies with no discretion, treating us as scroungers. They leave us without money food and needs, in sanctions, in order to survive there are many times I had to adjust to living in a parallel universe, as a subhuman to stay alive.

I am still waiting all year now for benefit decisions, after traumatic reassessments done by an online tick box, my life is in limbo I cannot make any decision to try to make a life or study to get myself out of poverty…

They are good at fobbing us off with excuses to try other people who do not help as excuses. Sending us round in desperate circles wasting valuable mental and emotional personal resources. Desperate people get judged and their pain used against them to their detriment.

“I would have killed myself by now”

Then, there’s this from Coleen. It’s the ‘matter-of-fact’ way she writes about her life which is most heart-breaking:

My name is Colleen Webster… I lost my job at 59, I’m now 63 and I’m on Jobseekers Allowance of £73 per week. This amount has remained since 2015, despite the cost of living going up. I’m on medication for high blood pressure and that medication has been raised 5 times, as it will not come down. I believe the stress of signing on benefits has caused this. I often have to use foodbanks to eat, and I sit in the dark to save electric. I have had 1 dress and 1 pr of knickers in the past 3 yrs, as I cant afford to buy new clothes…

I would have killed myself by now, if it wasn’t for my children. I don’t smoke or drink either, and have no social life.

With the weight of criticism at the DWP, Alston must surely look at the effects of its policies. His visit is in November. So, it is crucial that everyone hit by the DWP keeps a close eye on events. Because we can’t allow it and the government to brush this under the carpet.

Get Involved!

Read more from The Canary on the DWP.

Featured image via Wilfried Huss – Wikimedia and UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple