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While the elites sip on their apres ski at Davos, apparently pondering on how to improve life for the rest of us, the reality is that years of cuts to public services have made poverty a serious human rights concern in one of the wealthiest countries on earth. That’s why the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, visited the UK last November.

Alston issued a damning report: “Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it.”

Tax, social security and public spending changes since 2010 have had a disproportionate effect on people already struggling the most, including households with disabled people, lone parents and working families with children. Regional disparities and wealth inequality have risen and income inequality is forecast to grow in the coming years.

Only a fair tax system, where the wealthiest contribute more, can provide our society with the necessary means to ensure adequate housing, healthcare, good quality education and other social rights. And the UK Government’s devotion to privatising public services, which extends to our foreign aid policy,  is extracting profit from some of the world’s poorest nations.

In his preliminary report, Alston reproached the Chancellor for not ending the benefit freeze, instead choosing to change income tax thresholds to benefit those who are better off. Choice is the keyword here. The UK has the means to end poverty and reduce inequalities. It is a matter of political choice not to do so.


Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust

Rev Paul Nicolson, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty

Tom Burgess, Executive Director, Progressive Policy Unit

Koldo Casla, Policy Director, Just Fair

Neal Lawson, Chair, Compass

Fran Boait, Executive Director, Positive Money

Miatta Fahnbulleh, CEO, New Economics Foundation

Sarah Mann, CEO, Friends, Families and Travellers

Nick Dearden, Director, Global Justice Now

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group

First appeared in Left Foot Forward