UN Special Rapporteur’s Report on extreme poverty and human rights

You may have seen the recent publicity arising from publication of UN Special Rapporteur’s Report on extreme poverty and human rights.

Its well worth a read of the 24 pages – important field research with clearly articulated finding.

Here is the link https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Poverty/EOM_GB_16Nov2018.pdf

The report speaks to the two core principles of the Sheffield Cohesion Strategic Framework.

  1. That cohesion is not undermined by diversity but by deprivation

The UN Special Rapporteur’s Report speaks clearly about deprivation and being marginalised :

“Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity. But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction. In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering. 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. Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.”

The relevance to cohesion is that people on the receiving end of such policy feel abandoned, are fearful for their future and look for who is to blame, often scapegoating another marginalised social group.

2. The cohesion lens principle – that the way we do things is as important as what we do – and can build or undermine cohesiveness of communities.

Its not just the fact of economic deprivation, its the way it is implemented that bites just as harmfully.  The Report is clear on this.

“Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society. I provide various examples later in this statement.”

An event in the Sheffield Festival of Debate 2018 is relevant to this (https://www.festivalofdebate.com).  It explored the parallels between the ‘Hostile Environment’ targeted by the Home Office at undocumented migrants, but catching many more in its sweep, and what Ken Loach has called the ‘Conscious Cruelty’ of the way that the welfare benefit systems are being implemented (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/nov/23/ken-loach-benefit-sanctions-jeremy-corbyn-food-banks).   The purpose of the event was to recognise the similarities and build new partnerships to challenge policies that are unjust for those who are targeted, but affect us all by damaging the fabric of a fair and humane society.

A good practice case study analysis of the Cohesion Sheffield FoD events can be downloaded here – http://www.cohesionsheffield.co.uk/documents/


(Please note that comments are moderated for approval by our team before being published to the site so there may be a delay in your comment appearing below.)

  1. Panni Loh on 21st November 2018 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for drawing attention to this important article. Ken Loach’s film ‘I Daniel Blake’ so eloquently illustrates the despicable climate of ‘Conscious Cruelty’. The attention to detail gets to the heart of the matter. Here’s the official trailer:


  2. Andy Buck on 22nd November 2018 at 12:45 pm

    It is certainly a compelling report. What is also striking is the remarkably different responses it has generated. In the House of Commons, the government condemned the report and denied the the truth of any of its observations, whilst other MPs spoke passionately about the experience of poverty in the communities they represent. On Radio 4’s “The Moral Maze” two people all but denied the existence of poverty in the UK, whilst another was audibly upset about people calling at his door (he’s a priest) for food parcels. This profoundly polarised discourse is reflected in the debate about many other issues – not least of which is Brexit. Against this background, the work to build and sustain community cohesion is both more challenging and more important. At its heart is enabling people to listen to each other, learn about each other, find a way to respect and value their differences, hopefully find common ground, and to live harmoniously alongside each other.

Leave a Comment