UN Expert on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights to Visit UK

Geneva (October 30, 2018) — The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, will undertake a human rights factfinding visit to the United Kingdom from 5 to 16 November 2018 to investigate government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how this relates to the United Kingdom’s obligations under international human rights law.

During his two-week visit, the Special Rapporteur will travel to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Jaywick, London, and Newcastle. He will meet with government officials, including at the devolved and local level, to discuss government efforts to eradicate poverty. He will also meet with individuals affected by poverty to hear about their experiences and with civil society organizations working on poverty and human rights, academics, and national human rights institutions.

“The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries in the world, but millions of people are still living in poverty there,” said the Special Rapporteur, designated by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor, report and advise on extreme poverty and its intersection with human rights. “I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet.”

Some of the topics that the Special Rapporteur will address during his visit include the rollout of Universal Credit, child poverty, and the implications of Brexit on poverty. He will examine the effects of austerity measures, including changes to benefits and to local government funding. The Special Rapporteur will also look at the impact of an increasingly digital government on the most vulnerable. This includes making access to benefits such as Universal Credit ‘digital by default’ and the use of automation within the benefits system, aided by new technologies like artificial intelligence.

“Poverty is intertwined with human rights standards that the United Kingdom has ratified, including the right to food, housing, and an adequate standard of living and it affects access to civil and political rights,” the Special Rapporteur said. “The government has made significant changes to social protection in the past decade, and I will be looking closely at the impact that has had on people living in poverty and their realization of basic rights.”

The visit by the Special Rapporteur is meant to provide him with additional information on the situation on poverty and human rights in the United Kingdom, and will be based on extensive input and research in advance of the mission. This includes a thorough review of public information, almost 100 preliminary phone calls and a review of nearly 300 submissions from people affected by poverty, civil society, government officials, academics, and human rights institutes. This is by far the most submissions the Special Rapporteur has received before a country visit, and those made public with the authors’ consent are available here.

The Special Rapporteur will share his preliminary observations and recommendations at a press conference to be held at the end of his mission on 16 November 2018 at 12pm at the International Maritime Organisation in London (4, Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7SR). He will also issue a press release and end of mission statement that day. The press conference will be live-streamed on Facebook. The Special Rapporteur’s final report on his visit to the United Kingdom will be available in spring 2019 and will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2019.

Mr. Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014.  As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Follow the Special Rapporteur on Twitter @Alston_UNSR and on Facebook at facebook.com/AlstonUNSR

More information on the visit of the Special Rapporteur can be found on his website: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact: Junko Tadaki (+41 79 752 0486; jtadaki@ohchr.org) or Bassam Khawaja (+1 646 886 7211; +44 (0) 7904 398047; bassam.khawaja@nyu.edu).

Before and during the visit, the engagement of the Special Rapporteur with media will be limited to commenting on the scope of the visit, areas the Special Rapporteur will be visiting and other logistical aspects. Only at the press conference on November 16 and thereafter will the Special Rapporteur be in a position to comment on his findings and conclusions.

A preliminary schedule of the special rapporteur’s visit follows, including select events open to media:

November 5: London and Oxford

-Meeting with Foreign and Commonwealth Office
-Meeting with Equality and Human Rights Commission
-Oxford Internet Institute roundtable on new technology-assisted automation in government
-Meeting with academic researcher

November 6: Cardiff and Bristol

-Meeting with the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, National Assembly of Wales
-Meeting with the Minister for Housing and Regeneration
-Meeting with senior officials of the Welsh Government in the field of poverty and inequality
-Civil society briefing on poverty in Wales
-Civil society briefing at the Cardiff University Data Justice Lab on digital welfare
-Bristol meeting with people affected by rural poverty

November 7: Newcastle

-Meeting with academic researchers
-Meeting with Newcastle local authorities
-Meeting with Newcastle frontline workers
-Visit to foodbank
-Visit to Citizens Advice
-Visit to Jobcentre
-Visit to community development charity

November 8: Edinburgh

-Meeting with Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work
-Meeting with Minister for Older People and Equalities
-Roundtable discussion with Scottish Government officials
-Meeting with Scottish Parliamentary committee members
-Meeting with Cabinet Secretaries for Communities and Local Government and for Social Security and Older People
-Roundtable discussion with Scottish Government officials
-Town hall on human rights and poverty in Scotland
-Meeting with Scottish Commission on Human Rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Poverty and Inequality Commission
-Meeting with the Chair of the First Minister's Advisory Group on Human Rights

November 9: Glasgow

-Civil society roundtable on poverty in Scotland
-Visit to a community development trust
-Participatory session with children and young people affected by poverty in Scotland
-Roundtable with experts on child poverty
-Meeting with Scotland’s Commissioner on Children and Young People
-Meeting with academic researchers

November 10: Belfast 

-Meetings with Executive Office Director for Equality, Human Rights, and Delivering Social Change and Department for Communities Director for Social Inclusion
-Civil society roundtable on poverty in Northern Ireland
-Meeting with Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
-Civil society roundtable on the impact of Brexit on poverty in Northern Ireland
-Meeting with people affected by poverty in Northern Ireland
-Meeting with people campaigning for housing in North Belfast and visit to peace walls
-Meeting with people campaigning for work in West Belfast

***Media Access by Request***

November 11: Essex

-Meeting with Tendring local government and MP
-Jaywick town hall with people affected by poverty ***Open to Media***
-Closed session with people affected by poverty

November 12: London

-Roundtable on access to justice and problem debt
-Roundtable on child poverty and older people in poverty
-Roundtable on health and people with disabilities
-Roundtable on Brexit and poverty
-Roundtable on austerity, race, and gender
-Roundtable on food insecurity and housing
-Roundtable on privatization
-Town hall in Newham with people affected by poverty ***Open to Media***
-Meeting with youth group on inequality and poverty
-Meeting with civil society organization

November 13: London

-UK government meetings TBC
-Public event with the Special Rapporteur ***Open to Media***

November 14: London

-Meeting with the National Audit Office
-Meeting with members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights
-Meeting with members of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee
-Meeting with members of the House of Lords Committee on Artificial Intelligence
-Meeting with members of the House of Common Committee on Exiting the European Union  
-Meeting with the APPGs on Poverty and Universal Credit
-Meeting with academic researchers

November 15: London

No events

November 16: London

-Meeting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
-Press conference ***Open to Media***