The final report on the UK by the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is damning: “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.”
The report is in Microsoft Word format, which may make it inaccessible to some, so here is a PDF version. Here is a taste of what he says:
The Government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment. Many aspects of this programme are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality informing many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping, and elevate the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest economic levels of British society. It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens, rather than seeking to respond creatively and compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity in an age of deep and rapid transformation brought about by automation, zero-hour contracts and rapidly growing inequality.
I suspect that those of us who live here have become hardened to it, so that it doesn’t seem quite so bad as it does to an external observer. Certainly many of the underlying problems have gone on for decades – I remember findings in the 1980s, from the Policy Studies Institute, that half the families on benefit were running out of money most weeks. The retrenchment of social security in the 1980s and 90s, and the ‘welfare reforms’ after 2000, have all added to the problems. The sad truth is that we left behind the principles of the welfare state long ago.