29 June 2018
Professor Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the United Nations (UN), will visit the UK this autumn to investigate the impact of eight years of austerity measures.
“The UK has gone through a period of pretty deep budget cuts first under the Coalition and then the Conservatives and I am interested to see what the outcome of that has been,” he told the Guardian.
“The government statistics and a diverse array of civil society organisation would suggest the UK does have important challenges dealing with poverty,” Alston, an expert in international human rights law, explained.
Although he has not yet finalised what issues will be covered in his report, the investigator said he was interested in “what seems to be a renewed debate on all sides” about whether or not to increase public spending – including funding for the NHS, and whether welfare cuts have gone too far.
Alston told the Guardian he will soon be inviting suggestions on where his inquiry should focus, which he said could include insecurity at work and in-work poverty.
Director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, Torsten Bell, told the newspaper that low-income jobs are a growing concern.
“Twenty years ago, poverty in Britain was concentrated among pensioners and workless households,” he said.
“Now, poverty has moved into the workplace with more than half of the children growing up in poverty in working households.”
Alston underlined why such issues must be tackled, not just to improve economic equality, but also to ensure democracy and uphold human rights.
“Poverty is often characterised by a lack of political power, by a difficulty in enjoying even basic civil and political rights,” he explained.
Indeed, the Institute of Employment Rights agrees that taking steps towards the elimination of in-work poverty is a human rights issue. In our Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 recommendations for the reform of employment rights – we argue that workers must be enabled to have a stronger voice in both the workplace and in parliament.
In order to nurture a culture that allows workers to participate in the economy to a greater extent, we recommend that the government improves workers’ rights to organise into trade unions; reinstates sectoral collective bargaining so that workers and employers can negotiate wage and condition floors across entire industries; establishes a Ministry of Labour with a cabinet seat so that workers’ voices are heard in Westminster; and creates a National Economic Forum – on which stakeholders from across society will sit – the role of which will be to strategise collaboratively towards future challenges and to scrutinise the impact of policy on the interests they represent.