The Guardian view on poverty in Britain: not just shocking but shameful | Editorial

The report of the UN poverty envoy exposes the grim toll of austerity

Truth alone is not enough. It has been only too easy for campaigners and experts to amass abundant evidence of the damage wrought by austerity. The government has changed only its rhetoric. Put aside what the prime minister and chancellor say, and look at last month’s budget. Most government departments face drops in their real-terms spending per person for the next six years. Money that could have transformed the lives of the poorest has gone instead to tax cuts for the wealthy.

Moral arguments and even the invocation of self-interest – pointing out how divided, damaged and diminished the nation is becoming – have had little impact. Sometimes people must be shamed into action. That is why the report of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is so important. Philip Alston is not the first to record that the UK government has inflicted “great misery” through “mean-spirited, and often callous” policies; that it has done so by choice; and that Brexit is set to make matters much worse. The difference is that his position and plain speaking have exposed this country before the world’s gaze. His scathing analysis is a call not only to conscience but to Britain’s self-respect.

This editorial was amended on 18 November 2018 to correct a statistical error.

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