UK's welfare system is cruel and misogynistic, says UN expert after damning report on poverty

Britain’s welfare system is so sexist it may as well have been compiled by “a group of misogynists in a room,” a UN expert has claimed.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, warned that poverty in the UK is a “political choice” and that compassion and concern had been “outsourced” in favour of tax cuts for the rich.

In a damning 24-page report he brands levels of child poverty “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster” and said that limiting benefit payments to two children was as “forced and physical” as China’s one-child policy.

Single women caring for children had been the worst hit by austerity cuts, he found.

“There is a really remarkable gender dimension to many of the reforms,” he told a briefing in Westminster.

“If you got a group of misogynists together in a room and said ‘how can we make a system that works for men but not women?’ they wouldn't have come up with too many other ideas than what’s in place.”

He said the single household payments meant that women were not often able to control the family income, putting them at greater risk of domestic violence.

He alleged that when he put this to Esther McVey, who was Work and Pensions Secretary until she resigned over Brexit this week, she said that “90 per cent of people the UK have joint bank accounts anyway so what’s the problem?”

He claimed she added: “Well if they’re having problems, they should get counselling and if things are really bad, they should leave.”

A Government spokesman said: “With this Government's changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low. "Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.”

Alston will report to the UN's human rights council in June 2019.

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