UK austerity is so devastating it breaks international law, experts tell UN

UN sign with Austerity Kills in Box
Mohamed Elmaazi

Human rights experts have told the UN that its austerity policies violate international law, the National reports. The claims come as the UN receives submissions detailing the impacts of austerity on people in the UK.

Investigating poverty in the UK

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, will be visiting the UK for 11 days in November 2018.

Calling all experts

An army of lawyers, doctors, professors, local councillors, human rights and civil society organisations, and individual citizens have all submitted reports to Alston ahead of his visit.

The Canary has already reported on the deep personal misery outlined by individual submissions to Alston.

Austerity ‘violates international law’

Submissions by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (drafted by Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights – SNAP) describe violations of people’s rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR):

evidence from the Trussell Trust [food bank]… demonstrates that a ‘significant number of individuals is deprived of essential foodstuffs’ and this as a direct result of interference with the availability, accessibility and adequacy elements of the ICESCR Article 9


ICESCR - Article 9

SNAP quotes the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

The most affected protected group [by austerity] is disabled people, driven largely by reforms targeting disability benefits directly. Families with disabled adults and disabled children have faced the largest financial loss in cash terms compared to any other household type.

SNAP says that the sum total of the deprivation it describes also leads to violations of people’s right to an adequate standard of living (ICESCR Article 11).

ICESCR - Article 11

‘Two child’ policy disaster

Other experts have also made submissions. Dr Ben Warwick from Birmingham University has described how the UK’s:

 fiscal polices continue to violate a wide range of human rights standards.

These include the “two child” limit that:

engrains stereotypes, violates rights to social security, sexual and reproductive health rights and an adequate standard of living and is retrogressive.

Labour practices

In another submission, law professor Deirdre McCann argues that the increase in “highly casualised”, zero-hour jobs with “unpredictable incomes” also breaks the law. This is because such jobs ‘deprive’ workers:

of the ‘just and favourable’ conditions of work required by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 23 Right to Work Underline in Red

A “human catastrophe”

In 2017, a UN committee accused UK welfare cuts of creating a “human catastrophe” and breaking international law by:

 totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.

The Canary has detailed these findings and how the Conservative government continues to ‘whitewash’ them.

‘Poverty is a choice’

On his website, Alston says:

 Poverty is not inevitable; it is a political choice.

The site then displays a wheel linking “political choices” such as privatisation, limiting social protections, inequality, austerity with poverty at the centre:


Poverty Wheel Round 1
SOURCE: Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur (2014-2020)

It is clear, that after nearly a decade of austerity, the pain, suffering and misery caused in Britain is no accident. They are the inevitable consequences of political and economic choices made by politicians. We must come together and promote better politicians and better policies that empower people, rather than destroying them.

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Mohamed Elmaazi