At the end of May the UN’s final report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK was published. Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty sets out a damning 21 pages.
“Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated.”
He describes a government which has remained determinedly in a state of denial. In response, perhaps not appreciating the irony, the UK Government have dismissed the report as ‘barely believable’.
Reading it I felt the opposite – that it was a horrifyingly accurate picture of the society we have come to expect if not quite accept. I wonder if ‘barely believable’ rings true for the many organisations supporting communities dealing with the many and varied impacts of austerity?
I thought I’d at least sign the petition to make sure it’s debated in Parliament but was disappointed to see that there was one posted at the end of last year (after the interim report) which only attracted 63 signatures and has now closed. One on greyhound muzzling got twice as many. But seriously, in allowing Government to dismiss the report without any kind of fuss we’re basically sending a message that they can go right ahead.
And I do believe that our collective attitudes and diminishing expectations are part of the problem. Alston describes the bottom line being that “much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos. A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda.”
Scotland and Wales are recognised in the report as having taken certain steps to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity, but that there are quickly limits to the mitigation that is possible. I’d imagine more is always possible, but the role of Scottish Government is surely not to mitigate the negative impacts of decisions in Westminster.
I wondered if Edinburgh at the very least should be sending a message that we’re not prepared to live in the society described by Philip Alston and we’re not prepared to see the difficult reality of many people diminished.
EVOC as a first step are committing to find a way to meaningfully raise this with local partners in Edinburgh such as the NHS, City of Edinburgh Council and the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board. Nationally we will try to get a motion raised in Holyrood.
Any feedback or ideas? Please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.