THE United Nations’ poverty envoy has said the UK Government is violating international law ahead of a visit to the country this week.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, cited research showing Universal Credit payments of £85 a week for single adults over 25 were “grossly insufficient” and described the UK’s main welfare system as a “leaking bucket”.

Speaking to The Guardian, De Schutter said: “It’s simply not acceptable that we have more than a fifth of the population in a rich country such as the UK at risk of poverty today,” as he referred to data showing 14.4 million people lived in relative poverty in 2021-22.

“The policies in place are not working or not protecting people in poverty, and much more needs to be done for these people to be protected.”

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He added that the UK had signed an international covenant that created a duty to provide a level of social protection which ensured an adequate standard of living but that this was being broken.

He explained: “If you look at the price of housing, electricity, the very high levels of inflation for food items over the past couple of years, I believe that the £85 a week for adults is too low to protect people from poverty, and that is in violation of article nine of the international covenant on economic, social (and cultural) rights. That is what human rights law says.”

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), in 2022 3.8 million people experienced destitution – meaning they struggled to afford the most basic essentials.

This included one million children and was almost two and a half times the number of people in 2017.

A previous report from the JRF has found that the Scottish Child Payment – which provides families with £25 per week per eligible child – was helping to “significantly reduce child poverty”.

Reacting to the news, the SNP’s women and equalities spokesperson Kirsten Oswald (below) said: “The UN envoy is right to criticise the UK Government’s shameful record on poverty, which shows why Scotland needs the full powers of independence to eradicate poverty.

“While the SNP government has taken thousands of people out of poverty, with progressive policies like the Scottish Child Payment, the Tories have pushed people back into destitution by cutting benefits and failing to help families with the soaring cost of living in the UK.

The National: SNP MP Kirsten Oswald

“Rishi Sunak must finally take action to reverse the unacceptable levels of poverty in the UK, including by matching the Scottish Child Payment, raising benefits in line with inflation, and introducing an essentials guarantee to ensure families have enough money to get by.”

She added: “The SNP will continue to press for urgent action from the UK Government but it’s increasingly clear independence is key to eradicating poverty in Scotland.

“Only with the full powers of independence can Scotland escape Westminster control and build a wealthier, fairer society.

“Independent European nations like Scotland are wealthier and fairer than the UK – so the question has to be: Why not Scotland?”

The UK Government hit back at De Schutter’s suggestion.

A spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable, and in 2021-22 there were 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2009-10.

“Households are at least £6000 a year better off in full-time work than out of work benefits, and since 2010 there are almost 700,000 fewer children growing up in workless households, transforming their life chances.”

They added: “To help more people out of poverty through work, we are investing £3.5 billion to help thousands into jobs and grow the economy as we bear down on inflation, and we have committed to increasing the national living wage.”

De Schutter added that the UK was not the only country sliding back on how it tackles poverty.

He said: “One common realisation is that we need to stop thinking that economic growth will lift all boats.

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“We’ve seen in most OECD countries that growth of GDP has been going hand in hand with increasing inequalities and a failure to reduce levels of both relative and absolute poverty.

“So we should stop focusing on creating the macroeconomic conditions that will stimulate growth and focus instead on providing support to low-income households providing access to work for all people, including people who have low levels of qualification and creating a much more inclusive economy rather than one that creates wealth for the elites and particularly for the shareholders of the largest corporations.”