Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Newcastle on Wednesday as part of an investigation into the impact of austerity on the UK.
His inquiry will evaluate whether recent government policies breach the international human rights standards which the UK has agreed to follow, including the rights to food, housing and decent living standards.
Alston and his UN team will also visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow and London. Whilst Alston’s previous reports have concerned poverty in developing nations such as Ghana, Mauritania and Mozambique. This is only the second report to have been conducted into a wealthy country, following the US in December 2017.
It has been prompted by the claims of other international human rights bodies that the British government’s pursuit of austerity and welfare reforms since 2010 are incompatible with its international human rights obligations. Alston met with council bosses and visited the city’s West End Foodbank, the biggest in Britain, to understand the direct impact that the adoption of the Universal Credit benefits system and cuts to Newcastle City Council’s budget, totalling £254m since 2011, have had on the people of Newcastle.
The visit was informed by Academics from Newcastle University who entered a written commission, endorsed by the council, to the Special Rapporteur, showing the North East to be a key area of concern. It was found that Newcastle is the 53rd most deprived English local authority out of 326. More than 65,000 people in Newcastle are living in areas that are among the 10% most deprived in the country. Additionally, the West End Foodbank provides food for around 42,000 people yearly and reports that it is giving out 20% more food than six months ago.
The situation for children in Newcastle is also dire. The Chronicle reported that in the wards of Westgate, Wingrove and Elswick over half of children live in poverty. In Byker, the situation is barely any better with a figure or 49%. Alston will also be investigating inequality in Britain as regional disparities are unusually high for European standards. Since 2010, while the lowest earners have seen their real wages decline by 20%, those at the top have seen a 20% increase, concerning for the UN as one of its Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘Reduce inequality within and among countries’.
20Alston will present his initial conclusions in mid-November with a final report scheduled to be put to the UN Human Rights Council in 2019.