London (CNN)The United Nations has launched an investigation into extreme levels of poverty in one of the richest countries in the world: the United Kingdom.
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, starts a two-week fact-finding mission Monday, visiting some of the country's poorest towns and cities to examine the effects of austerity measures on rising levels of hardship.
Alston, known for his no-holds-barred critiques, will gather evidence on the impact that changes to welfare benefits and local government funding as well as the rising costs of living have had on British families.
"The Government has made significant changes to social protection in the past decade, and I will be looking closely at the impact that has had on people living in poverty and their realization of basic rights," Alston said in a statement.
"I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet."
Alston has heard from nearly 300 people affected by poverty, civil society groups, academics and government officials -- more than before any other country visit.
CNN reported in September that nearly 4 million children in the UK were living in households that struggle to afford fruit, vegetables and other foods conducive to healthy living, according to a report by the Food Foundation.
The long-term policy of austerity in the UK has also had a disproportionate impact on women, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
It has been nearly a d