UK poverty reckoning reveals children too poor to go to school

British government cuts and welfare changes have resulted in a "social calamity and an economic disaster", says the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
UK poverty reckoning reveals children too poor to go to school - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

All eyes have been on poverty in Britain this week, as the UN special envoy on poverty released a damning new report on the UK government's tough austerity measures.

One woman, Tracy Whittonstall, wasn't able to send her son to school for several weeks after being switched to the controversial new benefits scheme Universal Credit.

She didn't receive her welfare payouts for ten weeks under the new plan, Whittonstall reported.

The woman, a mother, went into rent arrears, was served an eviction notice and went further into debt.

Her son was preparing for his GCSE high school exams when Whittonstall could not afford his bus fare or lunch money. He stayed at home and missed weeks of lessons. He received worse grades than he was expected to.

And the cycle of poverty continues.

Details from the story:

  • The British government's “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies inflict "great misery" on the UK public, said the United Nations poverty delegate in a damning new report.
  • Philip Alston said austerity measures in the UK -- introduced in 2010 in response to the debts of the financial crisis in 2007-2008 to cut government spending -- were an act of "radical social engineering", with 14 million Brits and one in two children living in poverty.
  • He also said that existing policies in Britain failed to satisfy human rights obligations.
  • The report was released after Alston spent 12 days travelling across the UK investigating widespread poverty and visiting food banks.
  • "He got Bs when his potential was As and A*s, he was a couple of marks off but he could have done a lot better if he had been attending. It was a very critical time at school for him," said Tracy Whittonstall from Newcastle, one of the locations Alston visited.
  • Alston said in his report that cuts to welfare payouts were "ideological" and that the new benefits system, which Whittonstall was placed on, is "problematic", "unnecessary" and "harsh".
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