UN slams UK government over 'great misery' inflicted by austerity

UN special rapporteur Philip Alston, pictured in 2010, said the UK's situation was "not just a disgrace, but a social calamity."

London (CNN)Government austerity policies and the dismantling of the social safety net have entrenched poverty and inflicted unnecessary misery on the poorest people in the United Kingdom, a damning report by a UN human rights expert said Friday.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, described the situation -- in the fifth richest country in the world -- as "not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one."
Alston visited nine towns and cities on a 12-day trip around the UK, during which he gathered 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.
    Some 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, his report said. Of those, 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, it said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Social Metrics Commission and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
    After years of progress, poverty is increasing again, the report said, with child poverty predicted to rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022. Meanwhile, homelessness has increased by 60% since 2010, when a Conservative-led coalition government came to power, and the use of food banks is on the rise.
    Alston added that Brexit, now only four months away, "poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought."
    Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off after Brexit -- or the country's scheduled departure from the European Union (EU) in March 2019 -- the news release said. More people will be driven into poverty by inflation, lower wages and rising prices unless the government takes action to shield those most vulnerable and replaces current EU funding for combating poverty, it added.

    Political crisis

    Alston's report was released as Prime Minister Theresa May's government is embroiled in a political crisis over the draft Brexit deal struck with the EU this week.
    As May battles to face down rebellion within her Conservative Party, critics have accused the government of losing focus on the real concerns of the British people.
    Pound falls sharply as risk of chaotic Brexit rises