‘A STATE of denial”. This is the description of the UK Tory government by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston. And Alston should know. He has spent much of November touring the length and breadth of the UK to discover why, in the much vaunted fifth largest economy in the world, one in five people lives in poverty, 1.5 million are destitute, homelessness is up by 60% since 2010 and child poverty is set to increase from already dangerously high levels.

READ MORE: True toll of 'unnecessary' Tory austerity laid bare in UN report

In his report for the UN, Alston has called the levels of poverty in the UK a total “social calamity and an economic disaster”. He states that this calamity is a direct result of Westminster policies which have targeted the working poor, single mothers, the disabled, the elderly and locked children into a cycle of poverty they may never escape from and which will adversely affect their chances in life. He asserts that, not only is the UK Government inflicting unnecessary misery and dodging their obligation to the vulnerable in our society, they are also sticking their heads in the sand about the effect of their draconian austerity measures. To add insult to injury, now his report has been published, the UK Government has been entirely dismissive of his findings.

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Amber Rudd's response symbolised the UK Government's disconnect with society

This was echoed in the newly arrived Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Amber Rudd’s bare-faced repudiation of the UN findings in Parliament this week, where she described this report as extraordinarily “political”. Her arrogant reaction and her refusal to accept the mistakes made by her party continues a long tradition for her new department, where the previous minister, Esther McVey, called those who criticised their welfare changes and disastrous roll-out of universally condemned Universal Credit as “political saboteurs”. Amber Rudd lost her previous Cabinet berth as Home Secretary for misleading Parliament. What does she think the penalty is for attempting to mislead the people?

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Alston is a well-respected human rights lawyer, but, most importantly, his work is independent and is part of a wider body of experts in the UN human rights system. He has nothing to gain or lose by publishing his findings and his work cannot be described as political in any shape or form. But this doesn’t stop those who are to blame for his findings trying to pull the wool over the British public’s eyes and deny the cost of their decisions.

At least Alston has made the effort to get out there and talk to the people on the receiving end of austerity, unlike the Government officials who came up with Universal Credit, for instance, or the two-child cap, or the rape clause, or the ridiculous PIP assessments as they used to be known. He points out that those making these policies have not been out in the field to see what is really happening to people living in poverty. Instead they have continued with their “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” austerity measures, abandoning compassion for an economic system with little humanity at its cold heart. He compared the two-child cap on benefits payment as similar to China’s one-child policy because it punished families for having a third child. Not surprisingly, at the time of writing this column, not one Scottish Tory has made a comment on this comparison. They’re still nursing their wounds after the abhorent defence of the two-child cap last month by their colleague MSP Michelle Ballantyne, who commented that “people on benefits cannot have as many children as they want”.

Interestingly, the UN report also points out how the devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland are doing their best to mitigate the very worst excesses of Tory austerity, praising Scotland for our commitment to human rights, which is much stronger than that at the seat of government in London. We should be very proud of this but there is much to be done to right the wrongs of this Tory government that has been so careless with people’s lives.

Back in Westminster, Rudd’s statement in the House of Commons was revealing not just for its angry and defensive reaction to the report, but for her assertion that her party will “look forward to working with experts in the area to get the right outcome for the people we want to look after”. I think the whole point of the UN report is that it highlights the people they don’t want to look after, those they don’t seem to care about, those they don’t feel an obligation to or consider to be important enough to protect their human rights. It prompts the question, who are the people they want to look after?

Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in this statistic from the Institute for Public Policy Research’s recent report – 44% of the UK’s wealth is owned by just 10% of the population, with the average household wealth for Britain’s richest (decile) 315-times that of the poorest.

As usual the shadow of Brexit lies heavily on this UN report as indeed it does on every aspect of our future. Alston has added that the UK’s impending exit from the European Union will drastically worsen this situation, with the threat of inflation, rising cost of living, fewer jobs, wage cuts and place of work closures driving more people into poverty. Once again, we can ask, while people are losing out in their millions and forced into destitution by the economic disaster of leaving the EU, who benefits from Brexit? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise it’s the same lot that gain from austerity. Just a few, just a handful – let’s call them the elite, for that is what they are, they are the definition of this word, an already wealthy, powerful and select group of people. This is not the media or the liberal commentariat that the likes of Trump or, increasingly, members of the Tory party would have you believe. They are the super rich and the ultra powerful.

This December will be the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948. This declaration states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. In 2018, across the UK, this important and universal statement is being systematically eroded by the UK Government. For how much longer will Scotland put up with that government in denial and in opposition to basic human rights? Like people, all that good countries have to do to let injustice triumph, is nothing.