UK benefit cuts breach human rights, says UN

Those of us with disabilities, as well as other disadvantaged and vulnerable people, have been battling the UK government and its benefit cuts, disguised as so-called welfare reforms, and other austerity measures

Well, now we have official backing. The United Nations has confirmed that the UK’s austerity policies breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed ‘serious concern’ about the impact of what it calls ‘regressive policies on the enjoyment of economic and social right’s in a damning report on the UK.

pip actionOver a period eight months, the UN committee spoke with government officials, the UK human rights commissions and civil society groups. And now it concludes that austerity measures and social security reform breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.

Yes, the benefit cuts do actually breach our human rights – and the UN committee is calling for them to be reversed.

This was the Committee’s first review of the UK since 2009 and thus its first verdict on the austerity policies pursued by successive governments since the financial crash.

In a wide ranging assessment, expressed in unusually strong terms, the committee sets out the following findings:

  • Tax policies, including VAT increases and reductions in inheritance and corporation tax, have diminished the UK’s ability “to address persistent social inequality and to collect sufficient resources to achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights”. The committee recommends the UK adopt a “socially equitable” tax policy and the adoption of strict measures to tackle tax abuse, in particular by corporations and high-net-worth individuals.
  • Austerity measures introduced since 2010 are having a disproportionate adverse impact on the most marginalised and disadvantaged citizens including women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and those with two or more children. The committee recommends that the UK reverse the cuts in social security benefits and reviews the use of sanctions.
  • The new ‘National Living Wage’ is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living and should be extended to under-25s. The UK should also take steps to reduce use of “zero hour contracts”, which disproportionately affect women.
  • Despite rising employment levels, the committee is concerned about the high number of low-paid jobs, especially in sectors such as cleaning and homecare.
  • The committee urges the UK to take immediate measures to reduce the exceptionally high levels of homelessness, particularly in England and Northern Ireland, and highlights the high cost and poor quality of homes in the private rented sector and the lack of sufficient social housing.
  • The UK is not doing enough to reduce reliance on food banks.

Jamie Burton is chair of Just Fair, a consortium that includes 76 national and local organisations, was quick to comment He said: “The UN’s verdict is clear and indisputable. It considered extensive evidence and gave the government every opportunity to show why its tax and policy reforms were necessary and fair. In many important respects the Government proved unable to do this.

“It is clear that since 2010, ministers were fully aware that their policies would hit lower income groups hardest and deepen the suffering of many already facing disadvantage without offering any long term gain for the pain they inflicted. We urge the government to take heed of the committee’s recommendations and commit to ensuring that it does not diminish human rights further in the UK,” said.

Trouble is, with last week’s referendum vote, the government has more on its collective mind. Expecting positive action? Don’t hold your breath.



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Retired vicar faces jail in benefit cuts protest

Opinions expressed in this blog, unless attributed to others, are mine alone – Ian Franks

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard)

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard)

An 84-year-old retired vicar, if a vicar can ever be really ‘retired’, is facing the threat of jail by making a stand against the UK government’s cuts to benefits paid to people with disabilities, those with low incomes and others without work.

The Reverend Paul Nicolson lives in Tottenham, London, and decided to speak out ahead of facing a court hearing, on June 15. It is the next step in his refusal to pay council tax since 2013, in protest against benefit cuts that he says are “shortening people’s lives”.

He states that he is prepared to be bankrupted and go to prison.

Rev Nicolson describes his protest as an “act of civil disobedience” in a fight against tax and welfare policies which he says unfairly hit those on low incomes.

“If you make people ill by not giving them enough income, forcing them into debt, you reduce the length of time they could possibly live,” he said. “National and local government are shortening people’s lives.”

Facing the very real possibility of being sent to prison, he said: “I’m absolutely ready for that. You don’t undertake civil disobedience without being able to take the consequences.”

He first refused to pay council tax in 2013 after the government controversially reformed housing benefit and introduced the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ and capped, or put a monetary limit on the benefits that could be claimed by any one household.

About the same time, his local council, the London Borough of Haringey, brought in a new scheme of council tax support for low-income earners and introduced enforcement charges of up to £125 for those in arrears.

Last year, Mr Nicolson won a legal challenge against the right of Tottenham magistrates’ court to implement the enforcement charge in his case but he still owes £2,800 in council tax arrears.

In addition, he lost a court challenge against Grant Thornton, Haringey council’s auditors. This was concerning the enforcement charges and ended up leaving him to foot a further bill of £47,000 in legal costs.

A spokesman for Haringey declined to comment on the case, only confirming: “Rev Nicolson’s hearing is on June 15 at Tottenham magistrates’ court.”

Maybe it is time some local people showed  their support for the fighting Reverend.



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DWP is not ‘solely’ to blame – just partially

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You know that I am a great one for words and hidden meanings. I saw through the meaningless words of UK work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb that the government had no plans to make further disability benefits cuts.

I warned readers of this blog that having no plans did not mean no cuts.

And I was proved right when Crabb told the House of Commons’ Work and Pensions Select Committee that the government would be bringing out further benefit cut plans in a Green Paper later this year.

But, I am figuratively kicking myself for being semi-comatose when a Department of Works and Pensions spokesman made a statement in response to media interest in the 49 peer reviews, or internal inquiries, into deaths of people linked to benefit claims.

That spokesman said: “Any suicide is a tragedy and the reasons for them are complex, however it would be inaccurate and misleading to link it solely to a person’s benefit claim.”

Solely, that is it. Solely.

That one word is an admission that the deaths can be linked, albeit only partially, to their benefit claims.

I wonder if the spokesman has shot the ministry in the foot.

‘No further plans to cut benefits’ pledge lasts 51 days

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Declaration of interest: I have multiple sclerosis and receive both ESA (in the support group) and Disabled Living Allowance (both care and mobility components at the highest rates).


Sneaky, very sneaky and possibly even underhanded, is the only way I can describe how the UK’s work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb decided to reveal the government’s latest intentions to make further cuts to disability benefits.

Instead of making a statement in the House of Commons, he chose to disclose the proposals in an almost throwaway and casual style before the work and pensions committee select committee.

He told the committee that he wanted to go further than the controversial and much-criticised £12 billion welfare cuts set out in the 2015 Conservative manifesto and to ‘re-frame discussion’ around disability welfare reform.

And this, let me refresh your memory, from the same man who, after replacing Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, announced the dumping of proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment and said that the government had no plans to make further welfare cuts.

At the time, I warned that we should not be taken in by his ‘weasel words’.

This week Mr Crabb told the committee that he intended to set out a green paper later this year to propose further changes to disability benefits.

He explained that the measures that have either already been legislated for or announced add up to the planned £12 billion of welfare cuts but added: “Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say ‘no’. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”

Mr Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy ‘smart strategies’ for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.

He said: “In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.

“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.

“This is why there’ll be further information in due course about this. I want to produce a green paper later this year which starts to re-frame discussion around this set of issues.”

Criticism to Crabb’s latest plans have been voiced by many including campaigning blogger Mike Sivier. Writing on Vox Political Online, he said: “He (Crabb) means he wants to cut funding to the vulnerable and make it more likely they will die, the same as Iain Duncan Smith always meant.

“This is a war of attrition; the Tories have already killed off a great many sick and disabled people and hidden the facts, in the opinion of this writer. That means there are fewer left to resist what may clearly be seen as a genocide.

“That’s why fighting these cuts is so vital. Stephen Crabb must not be allowed to think his murderous plan (whatever it is) will be easy to enact.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has called on the government to dump the ESA cuts that have already been passed. He said: “The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise (that no further cuts were planned) and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”