UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty

The University of Bristol was pleased to welcome the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, on Tuesday 6th November.

Professor Alston heard testimonies and gathered evidence from individuals and organisations at the University of Bristol Law School. Participants included our very own CEO, Beverley Parker as well as:

  • Sam Gilchrist, West Northumberland Foodbank
  • Christine Pepler, Diocese of Hereford
  • Megan Blake, Sheffield University
  • Anna Taylor, The Food Foundation
  • Tracy Olin, PATCH; Imran Hameed, Salma Foodbank
  • Heidi Saxby, University of Newcastle

This was the only session during the Rapporteur’s UK visit in which he focused specifically on extreme poverty in rural areas in the UK.

Working in accordance with his mandate, the Rapporteur looked at the ways in which Food Poverty, Austerity, Universal Credit, Child Poverty and Brexit are not only pushing people in rural areas into extreme poverty, but worsening the condition of those who are already in such conditions. Thus the rural premium compounds extreme poverty in the remote countryside.

The eight participants represented organisations which had made written submissions to the UN special rapporteur in advance of the meeting. Each was asked to speak for a few minutes on their submission, and on the key issues raised within it.

Dr Megan Blake, expert on food security and food justice, provided evidence of strong correlations between weight and low income among adults and children in rural areas and the mental health related issues linked to feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear. “The dual impact of poverty premiums and rural premiums makes access to food more expensive because of transport costs. In particular access to good quality healthy food is becoming out of reach for many, but especially those who are food insecure in rural areas”.

The Food Poverty Alliance, Shropshire, provided written submissions about households in rural Shropshire, already facing the brunt of austerity, and welfare cuts, their food budget is the only area where they can cut their spending. This is likely to have a “lifelong impact on children and their future potential, at great personal cost to them and to our country.”

Dr Tomaso Ferrando from the University of Bristol Law School reflected that the testimonies revealed that poverty is much more than the absence of money but a condition connected with multiple deprivations and intersectional violations of human rights. He said, “the meeting has strengthened my understanding that fighting poverty is one of the three pillars behind any effective campaign to protect the right to food as an essential component of people’s lives”.

The UN rapporteur will issue his interim report on the impact of austerity and the government’s responsibility to meeting its international human rights commitments on the right to decent food, housing and standard of living later this month (November 2018).

Ruth George MP 

Towards the end of the two week visit investigating poverty across the UK, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Poverty attended a final meeting with MPs to discuss the impact of Universal Credit. Organised and Chaired by Ruth George, MP in the High Peak, the meeting gave Professor Philip Alstonthe the opportunity for him to voice his concerns about his findings. He is writing his report to deliver as soon as possible.