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The UN Rapporteur, Philip Alston, Investigates Britain’s Extreme Poverty – Not That We Have Any

Philip Alston is the UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty around the place. He’s just arrived in the UK to report on how well – or how badly of course given the way his report will read – Britain deals with said extreme poverty. His report won’t be hampered in the slightest by the unfortunate fact that the UK doesn’t actually have any extreme poverty. That true destitution was gone generations back. Barbara Castle even said so back in 1959.

Britain does have inequality, most assuredly, there are some people who have more than some others. But people in actual poverty? By any global or historical standard the UK has no one in actual poverty, nary a one. Not that this will stop the rapporteur, as his earlier report into poverty in the US didn’t. The US being a country where, in the absence of significant mental health or addiction problems, no one is poor. That didn’t stop us all being treated to a recitation of how appalling it all was.

So, well done to the UN there. They’ve managed to find someone to castigate us all for having actually solved that age old problem of poverty.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, will undertake a human rights fact-finding visit to the United Kingdom from 5 to 16 November 2018 to investigate Government efforts to eradicate poverty.

“The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries in the world, but millions of people are still living in poverty there,” said Alston, designated by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor, report and advise on extreme poverty and its intersection with human rights. “I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet.”

We’ve simply not got millions living in any reasonable definition of poverty. Not that this is going to stop him:

Alston, who has a reputation as a fearless, plain-speaking critic, will gather evidence on the impact of universal credit, welfare changes, local government cuts, and rising living costs before publishing an interim report on his findings before he leaves the UK in mid-November.

“I think the UK is at a crossroads, partly because of Brexit, and partly because of the comments made by the prime minister and the chancellor in terms of austerity [being over],” he said. “My hope is that there is a real possibility for a dialogue about future policy direction.”

Isn’t that nice of him? An unpaid, unelected, busybody from elsewhere gets to tell us all what policy should be. When he’s not even using the correct definition of poverty?

It has been nearly a decade since then-Prime Minister David Cameron committed to cut excessive government spending, declaring in 2009 that “the age of irresponsibility” was “giving way to the age of austerity.”
In 2010, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Conservative-led coalition government announced its plan to drag the UK out from under piles of public debt by ditching thousands of government jobs, slashing welfare benefits and cutting billions of pounds’ worth of public spending.

That’s still not something that produces poverty by any rational standard.

It is true that his report on the US contained this joy concerning a universal basic income:

Efficiency, in terms of avoiding welfare fraud, duplicative programmes,
double-dipping, and bloated bureaucracies. As one commentator rejoiced: “we get to
fire a couple of million bureaucrats”;

His source?

Tim Worstall, “Krugman’s argument in favour of a universal basic income”, Forbes, 5 May 2015

Other than that the report’s pretty much a crock. As I’ve pointed out:

Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, is coming to the UK soon to tell us all how meanly we treat the less fortunate in our society.

He’s got a bit of a record on such matters, as his report on poverty in the US showed. In his initial report he tried to measure poverty without taking into account all the things the US government does do to reduce it, which really is not the way to do it. His second stab at it made a different mistake – it didn’t try to measure poverty at all, it measured inequality.

Inequality is doubtless an interesting thing, but it’s important not to get the two concepts confused with each other. Inequality isn’t poverty and poverty ain’t inequality.

And also:

The United Nations has, once again, insisted that American levels of poverty are vast and demeaning to such a rich nation. The U.N. is, once again, misunderstanding the various statistics it is manipulating. The underlying truth is that the U.S. is more unequal than most other rich nations, and that’s really all that is being said.

This is actually a report by a Special Rapporteur, in this case Philip Alston. I discussed the errors in his draft report with you here. The final report is here. I’ve also been in direct contact with Alston and his reaction to those earlier criticisms was, in effect, gosh, yes, this is all difficult, isn’t it? That doesn’t excuse either the general reporting upon this nor the error at the heart of the report itself.

HuffPost tells us that the poor are becoming more destitute under Trump. That’s not really a possible finding in a report using data that only goes up to 2016. Reuters talks about extreme poverty, not something even measured in the various statistics presented. And then they tell us that there are 41 million in poverty, something that as I mentioned earlier just isn’t true. That’s the number who would be in poverty before the things we do to raise people up out of poverty (welfare programs).

Essentially the UN’s sending someone who doesn’t have the first clue about the subject under discussion to tell us all that we’re terrible meanies because.

Don’t expect anything more meaningful than that whatever the paroxysms of indignation The Guardian manages.

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5 years ago

Could he not go to Venezuela and study real extreme poverty instead? If he scared of Maduro he could go to Cucuta in Colombia on the border instead.

Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp
5 years ago

So we have enough poor people. So we don’t need to import any more?

5 years ago

The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries in the world Erm no. Last time I checked the UK is in the mid-20s in world league tables of prosperity. Those league tables might go down to a Division 9, which is roughly the bottom of the Football Pyramid too, but the old second division, or Championship as it’s now called, does not make the UK one of the richest. Philip Alstom couldn’t even get that right. If he’s talking about multiplying GDP per head by the number of heads, then sure, the UK is in the top 7, but… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago
Reply to  Bongo

True, but many of those countries above us in the ‘league’ are flyspecks, majoring in tax avoidance (Lux & Monaco, for a start).

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