UK welfare reforms to be investigated by United Nations

Silhouetted people walk past the Houses of Parliament Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The government has pledged to cut annual welfare spending by £12bn

The United Nations will investigate UK welfare reforms and equal rights policies as part of a planned review.

A committee will look at the government's welfare changes and unemployment policies to see if they "disproportionately affect" the rights of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

The review, part of a regular cycle of examinations, will be the first undertaken since 2009.

The findings will be published next June.

As part of the examination of government policies, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has requested further information on more than 30 issues.

The committee will examine whether measures have targeted certain groups such as disabled people, ethnic minorities or those on low incomes.

A UN spokeswoman said the CESCR would review the UK and six other countries.

"It is not an investigation or inquiry launched in response to a particular situation or at the request of a third party," she added.

The review is being carried out because the UK signed up to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Areas under examination will include:

  • Austerity measures and welfare reform
  • Unemployment policies and the national minimum wage
  • The government's proposed Bill of Rights, which is intended to replace the Human Rights Act
  • Supply of social and affordable housing
  • Childcare, child poverty and food bank use
  • Gender equality
  • Availability of mental health services
  • Higher education policies and fees
  • Northern Ireland legislation on abortion
  • Essential services for asylum seekers
  • Policies to tackle domestic violence, human trafficking, forced marriages and female genital mutilation
  • Gypsy and traveller access to basic services and education

Earlier this month members of the Just Fair coalition, which campaigns for "social justice in the UK", met CESCR representatives.

Just Fair members said they were concerned government policies had "led to violations of the right to food, housing, adequate healthcare for migrants and people with mental health problems and the economic and social rights of disabled people".

Image copyright PA
Image caption The UN will be looking at the government's welfare reforms and benefits cuts

Just Fair chairman Jamie Burton said the UN review was "timely and welcome".

"We and many others are concerned about the adverse impact austerity policies have had on the least well off and already marginalised in society, including those in work," he said.

"In the one of the richest countries in the world people do not have enough food to eat or decent housing to live in.

"Worst of all, the measures have hit children, single mothers and people with disabilities the hardest. As the tax credits scandal shows, the public is turning against these policies precisely because they are so unfair."

The government is aiming to cut annual welfare spending by £12bn, in line with a Conservative manifesto pledge.

A government spokesman said: "This is not an investigation but a routine request for information that occurs every few years as part of the periodic reporting process to the UN.

"We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society. The UK government continues to support millions of people on benefits with an £80bn working-age welfare safety net in place."

The UN review is separate from an ongoing investigation by the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is looking at whether the government's disability benefit reforms breached the rights of disabled people.

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