THE UN has accused the Tories of choosing to make the poorest people in Britain poorer while funding tax cuts for the wealthy.

In an unsparing report, Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, claimed Theresa May’s government has inflicted “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” policies on people in the UK, causing “great misery”.

Alston criticised Chancellor Philip Hammond, who at the last Budget could “easily have spared the poor” but chose not to.

“Resources were available to the Treasury at the last Budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead,” he said.

The Government has dismissed the report, saying they “completely disagree” with the analysis.

But Alston, who has spent the last two weeks touring the country and hearing from those on the breadline, insisted ministers were in a state of denial.

The professor was deeply critical of Universal Credit, and, in particular, the five to 12 week waiting periods, the sanctions, and the single-household payments system which means only one person per household gets the benefit – which critics have long argued can fuel domestic abuse.

“There are a number of aspects to it which are particularly problematic and harsh, and more interestingly, unnecessary and almost gratuitous, and could therefore be changed fairly quickly,” Alston said.

Levels of child poverty in the UK, he added, were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

Figures from the IFS and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the report suggest that around 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million of those are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. And Alston warned that the situation is likely to get worse, with child poverty rising by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

The 24-page report will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year.

During his fact-finding mission to the UK, Alston spent time in Glasgow, as well as London, Oxford, Cardiff, and Newcastle. He also met with Nicola Sturgeon.

There was praise for the Scottish Government, and their £125m attempt to mitigate the worst aspects of austerity, but the rapporteur warned of an “accountability gap,” criticising ministers in Edinburgh for not including “an explicit reference to international standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act”.

He also criticised the SNP government for not doing more to publicise the Scottish Welfare Fund.

In his report, he said the state of poverty in the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, was “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

The UK Government, Alston said, just weren’t listening.

“What I found in my discussions with ministers, is basically a state of denial. The ministers with whom I met have told me that things are going well, that they don’t see any big problems, and they are happy with the way in which their policies are playing out.

“But it’s of course not the story that I heard in my travels through Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and in quite a few cities in England.”

A UK Government spokesperson said Alston was simply wrong: “We completely disagree with this analysis. With this Government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

“Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.”

Scottish Government Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said the report laid bare “the damage being caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit and the fundamental issues that need to be addressed if it’s not going to cause increased poverty”.

She added: “This report is clear – it is the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who are being hit hardest. I have repeatedly told the UK Government their failed policies are causing harm and poverty. Now a UN Rapporteur has clearly outlined that changes are needed.”

Charity bosses have their say

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance: “We have seen poverty increasing for the first time in decades; a direct result of the choices that have been made.

“These choices have had a disproportionate impact on people who are already more likely to experience poverty, like disabled people and lone parents.

“The state of denial about the impact of the decisions that have been taken cannot go on.

“We all share a moral responsibility to respond to these findings by taking the steps needed to free people from the grip of poverty, and ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living.”

Polly Jones, project manager at A Menu for Change: “The Scottish Welfare Fund should provide a lifeline to families in crisis, but as Alston has highlighted, too many people are missing out on the assistance they’re entitled to.

“His report should serve as a warning to the Scottish government and local councils to prioritise this fund so it’s able to reach more people, more quickly and avoid them being driven to the doors of food banks.”

John Dickie, the director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland: “The key drivers of rising child poverty are clearly summarised by the UN rapporteurs description of the current UK approach to social security as ‘punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous’.

“UK ministers now need to wake up to the damage being wreaked and end the freeze on working age benefits, scrap the two child limit and fully restore the value of universal credit.”

Chris Goulden, Joseph Rowntree Foundation: “There are clear actions the UK Government can take – ending the freeze on benefits and building on the principles behind Universal Credit to make sure that work is a proper route out of poverty."