The right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in the UN convention on the rights of the child.
Prof Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who is coming to Britain in November. The eminent international human rights lawyer called for submissions from anyone in the UK to establish “the most significant human rights violations experienced by people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the UK”. He is interested in the impact of austerity, universal credit, the advent of computer algorithms making decisions on welfare matters, and Brexit. Alston defines extreme poverty as “a lack of income, a lack of access to basic services, and social exclusion”.
Human Rights Watch, an organisation more often associated with defending rights in countries such as Russia, China, Syria, and India, is planning to tell Alston about food poverty in the UK.
“There is a lot of hunger that goes under the radar, ranging from parents skipping meals, kids showing up to school hungry, and schools and families relying on low-cost, redistributed surplus food to make ends meet,” said Kartik Raj, a HRW researcher for western Europe.
“People have a right to food and an adequate standard of living. These are human rights the government is obliged to ensure under international treaties it has signed. If the fifth largest economy in the world is failing to ensure that basic minimum, or letting things get worse, particularly for those who are least well-off, then that is certainly something we will be bringing to the rapporteur’s attention.”
The Trussell Trust, which runs food banks, said it will tell Alston how food bank use rose 52% in areas where universal credit was rolled out, compared with 14% where it wasn’t or had only just been launched.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said it will urge Alston to examine how tougher benefit sanctions lead to greater destitution, which means people not being able to keep warm, fed, dry and clean. It found that last year 1.5 million people fell into destitution at some point – just over one in 50 people – with the highest levels in Manchester, Liverpool and Middlesbrough.
“Destitution cuts off your ability to have a decent life and affects mental and physical health and the opportunities for you and your children in the future,” said Chris Goulden, a deputy director of the JRF.
Aoife Nolan, a professor of international human rights law at the University of Nottingham, said: “The key issue he has to come and see is welfare reform, deliberate actions which have negatively impacted the enjoyment of human rights for disabled people and children in particular.”