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  1. ITV Report

Universal Credit has 'plunged people into misery and despair', UN envoy says

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Universal Credit waiting times have "plunged people into misery and despair", according to a United Nations envoy.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said on Friday the introduction of Universal Credit has caused extreme hardship but could easily be reversed by the Government.

He claimed the new benefits policies, which the Government say incentivise paid work, equate to "a punitive, mean-spirited, and callous approach".

But he added: "If a new minister was interested, if a new Government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money."

Amber Rudd was named as the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Friday after Esther McVey resigned.

Ms Rudd insisted the system has "transformed lives" and pledged to "iron out" problems with it.

Prof Alston made his comments following a 12-day, nine-city trip to the UK. According to his report, approximately 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, with 1.5 million classes as destitute, and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston also claimed people in poverty will "bear the brunt" of the economic consequences of Brexit.

He said "the impact of Brexit on the British people has not been examined as it should be" adding "those in lower income groups are really going to suffer".

Labour have been quick to condemn the Government for Professor Alston's findings.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said: "I am deeply concerned by the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur's report. The Government should listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies.

"Universal Credit is failing miserably, leaving families in debt, rent arrears and at risk of becoming homeless. Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household.

"Labour will stop the roll out of Universal Credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system so that it supports people instead of punishing them."