IN a week when the Scottish Government was praised by anti-poverty campaigners and children’s charities for fast-tracking its new benefit to support struggling families, the UN Human Rights Council heard a damning account of the UK Government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” welfare policy.

One can just imagine our hopeful future prime ministers now, cursing the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment which will give £10 per week for each child under 16 to families in receipt of other benefits. They will hate this policy, not only because it makes them and their promises to widen the chasm of inequality by cutting tax on the rich and on corporations look all the worse, but because it serves to undermine, in some small way, the ideological agenda which they wish to advance.

Statistics released last month show that more than 500,000 more children in the UK are living in poverty today than in 2010. In eight of Scotland’s 32 council areas, 25% of children are now living in poverty, while in some areas of Glasgow the figures sit at over 40%.

But let’s be in no doubt: Boris, Jeremy and the gang weren’t lying awake at night hoping against hope that the Scottish Government would fork out the cash to help families in Scotland with a benefit that the UK Government simply couldn’t afford to provide. This is not a course of action which they agree is necessary or even desirable.

After nine years of austerity Britain and ample evidence of the harm which cuts to welfare and public services are doing to our most vulnerable people, the Conservative Party continues to defend the two-child cap and rape clause, a benefits freeze which ignores inflation and the rising cost of living, and a Universal Credit system which is provably pushing people into poverty and even homelessness.

This is an agenda which has been driven not by necessity, but by “a determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility” and to bring about “a dramatic restructuring of the relationship between people and the State”. These are the reflections not of a radical, partisan campaigner, but of UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, who presented the findings of his investigation into poverty in the UK in Geneva on Friday.

Of course, this analysis is entirely unremarkable to anyone who has been listening to what the Conservative Government or its MPs have to say. Just last week, Conservative leadership candidate and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt applied this same worldview to social care, proposing that “we should be a country where people save for their social care costs ... in the same way they save for their pension”.

This, he said, would promote “personal responsibility” and create a system which “rewards people who do the right thing”.

The special rapporteur’s report, which demands urgent action to reverse the UK’s reckless decimation of the “social safety net”, was based on more than 300 written submissions and consultation events around Britain.

But rather than engage seriously with the findings when the preliminary report was published last November, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was “barely believable”. Echoing the now-familiar Conservative mantra, the DWP maintained that “full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment”.

Forget the fact that two thirds of children in poverty live in a working family. Forget that the majority of families affected by the two-child cap since its introduction in 2017 are working.

Forget that the Child Poverty Action Group, joined by more than 50 other organisations around the UK, are calling for a reversal of the policy through the All Kids Count campaign, which claims that 300,000 children will be pushed into poverty by 2023 while one million children already in poverty will be pushed into deeper hardship.

The UK Government wants us to forget all of these facts, all of the mountains of evidence against its approach, because reality is at odds with its political project.

In Scotland, it is increasingly apparent that two political administrations are working at ideological cross-purposes.

The newly established Social Security Scotland is explicit in its aim to “do things differently” by delivering benefits in a more “supportive and positive way”.

In its charter, it declares that social security must be recognised as a human right, that the dignity of individuals must be respected and that social security is essential to reducing poverty and investing in people. However, as the submission by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) to Philip Alston’s investigation states: “Without a culture change at a UK level, the levels of poverty experienced by those reliant upon their right to social security is unlikely to improve significantly.”

In recognition of this fact, Alston acknowledged in his report that “devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the [UK] Government’s benefits policy”.

While other governments may be in a position to introduce policies on the basis of a coherent vision for improving the lives of its citizens, in Scotland our devolved administration is forced to direct its efforts and its budget – despite cuts to its block grant funding from the UK – at plugging holes in a sinking ship that the superior authority of the UK Government insists on smashing into icebergs for kicks. It is absolutely right that the Scottish Government has chosen to introduce this additional benefit for families, and that it has agreed to speed up the process of implementing it.

It is also right that the Scottish Government introduced its own statutory child poverty targets in 2017, after the UK Government made the revealing decision to scrap the targets in 2016. These actions were not choices but necessities in the face of families who are forced to choose between heating their homes or feeding their children.

But let’s not forget that this situation has not arisen by accident or by an unavoidable economic downturn. Poverty has been inflicted on families in Scotland and around the UK by right-wing, elitist ideologues who believe that the poor are disposable pawns in their grand re-imagining of Great British society.

Opponents of Scottish independence warn that leaving the UK could be an economic risk; that it could put the most vulnerable and worst-off in our society at risk. Have they been paying attention?

In his report, Philip Alston describes the UK’s austerity regime as a “combustible situation that will have dire consequences”.

And, while it is regularly claimed that the aim of this approach has been to save money, he points out that it is likely to cost considerably more than the cuts have saved as a result of increasing demand on public services.

Whether we like it or not, the political, social and economic foundations of the UK are shifting beneath our feet while we scramble to cling on to solid ground. But while destructive change is driven from the right, we are told to disbelieve our eyes; that everything is perfectly normal and under control.

It is only change which might undermine the power of the elite which we are told to fear.

Every one of the candidates standing to lead the Conservative Party as prime minister has every intention of pushing full steam ahead with the harmful austerity agenda which has become the new normal.

As those of us in Scotland confront that bleak horizon, it seems there could be no more sensible or urgent course of action than to decide it’s time to stop patching up the damage and get off the boat once and for all.