UN poverty Rapporteur reveals ‘behind the scenes’ look at UK visit

By agency reporter
September 19, 2019

A visit from a UN Special Rapporteur can have an important effect on how seriously poverty and human rights are taken in the country and on policymaking, according to an article published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and his senior advisers, Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell made an official visit to the UK in November 2018 and visited England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Philip Alston observed of their visit: “My experience in the UK suggests that a carefully planned visit by a Special Rapporteur, combined with sustained consultations with civil society and people affected by poverty, and engagement with the press and on social media, can make an important contribution.”

In June 2019 they published their final 21 page report on the UK, arguing that the government was doubling down on policies that have “led to the systematic immiseration of millions across Great Britain.”

Taking a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the visit, the article, the first to be published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice by a UN Special Rapporteur in its nearly 20 year history, acknowledges the many challenges faced by Special Rapporteurs and emphasises the importance they place on strategic engagement with civil society and both traditional and social media throughout an investigation.

Following the publication of their report, the team reported the following outcomes:

  • More than 3,000 pieces were published, including on TV, radio, podcasts and in print.
  • In the week following the press conference, at least 15 MPs from four political parties pressed Ministers on poverty and unemployment, many of them pointing to the report’s findings directly.
  • The House of Lords held a debate on the report the following month (December 2018), and in January 2019 the House of Commons held an adjournment debate on the findings.
  • Furthermore, the visit contributed to a significant increase in the public’s view of the issue’s importance: “In December 2018, following publicity surrounding the report 21 per cent of the public identified poverty and inequality as a ‘big issue’, up four percentage points from the previous month, making it the third biggest issue after EU/Brexit and NHS/Healthcare.”

Alston and his team conclude that the final analysis of the impact of a Special Rapporteur is in whether the issues they are reporting on are taken more seriously as a result. By these standards, Alston and his team’s visit to the UK made a considerable impact on perceptions of poverty and the actions being taken to alleviate it. 

* The article Much ado about poverty: the role of a UN Special Rapporteur is available as a free download here

* Read Philip Alston's report on his visit to the UK here

* Bristol University Press https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/bristoluniversitypress


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