THE UK Government’s “cruel and harmful” welfare policies have left tens of thousands of poor families hungry, a damning new report has said.

Global charity Human Rights Watch said successive Westminster governments had “violated” the right to food, but took particular aim at the Tories.

It listed a string of welfare policies over the past decade, including the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefit cap, as being behind a surge in hunger and added many of the families affected were headed by single parents.

It described as a “particularly egregious policy” the “two-child limit” which limits child-tax credit to the first two children in a family. Exceptions to the rule include if the child has been born as a result of rape, is from multiple births or has been adopted.

“This arbitrary limit on a means-tested benefit penalises low- and middle-income families for having more than two children. Although in January 2019 the Government announced a partial reversal of this policy, to ensure it is not applied retrospectively to children born before that date, its effect on all families with a third or further additional child born after April 6, 2017, remains in place,” the report said.

The cuts, which it said were motivated by austerity, had amounted to a 44% reduction in support for children and families, it added.

Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, Kartik Raj, said: “This rise in hunger has the UK Government’s fingerprints all over it.”

He added: “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable.

“The UK Government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”

Human Rights Watch also accused the UK Government of having “largely ignored” mounting evidence of falling living standards among the poorest residents.

It pointed to the “skyrocketing” use of food banks and multiple reports from school officials that “many more” children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate.

The charity conducted more than 120 interviews in three areas of high deprivation in England and looked at government data to compile its report.

It heard from young single mothers who feared they would lose custody of their children if they openly asked for food aid or admitted they were going hungry.

It urged the UK Government to go address the “significant structural problems” of its welfare policies.

It called for an end to delays for Universal Credit payments and for benefits to keep in line with inflation.

It also urged ministers to develop an anti-hunger strategy with legal weight.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We’re helping parents to move into work to give families the best opportunity to move out of poverty.

“And it’s working – employment is at a record high and children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty.

“We spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits and we’re supporting over one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals. Meanwhile we’ve confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.”