A Little Finger-Wagging

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The British government rejected criticism from the United Nations’ official in charge of poverty and human rights, Olivier de Schutter, who accused the country of violating international law over its poverty levels, according to the Guardian.

De Schutter’s comments as he is preparing to visit the country this week, where he will urge British ministers to increase welfare spending.

In the interview, he said it is unacceptable that “we have more than a fifth of the population in a rich country such as the UK at risk of poverty today.”

According to the World Bank, the UK has the sixth-largest nominal gross domestic product in the world. At the same time, government data shows that 14.4 million people were in relative poverty in 2021-2022.

Among his concerns, the UN envoy warned that the British ‘Universal Credit’ basic allowance system, which grants single adults over 25 around $105 per week, was insufficient to protect people from poverty. He also cautioned that the weekly amount was in violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has ratified.

The agreement guarantees everyone the right to social security.

The prime minister’s office disagreed with the UN diplomat, countering that since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010, the number of people in absolute poverty has decreased by 1.7 million and that “households are at least £6,000 ($7,400) a year better off in full-time work than out of work on benefits.”

De Schutter is not the first UN official to irritate the UK government on the topic of poverty.

In 2018, his predecessor, Philip Alston, had toured the country and came to harsh conclusions on the state of its welfare system. In this latest confrontation, De Schutter said “things have got worse,” adding, “we need to stop thinking that economic growth will lift all boats.”

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