Tag Archives: extreme poverty

More smears from the Mail against UN official who is trying to help the poor

The victim: Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations' expert Special Rapporteur on Housing is once again the victim of a baseless Daily Mail smear piece.

The victim: Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations’ expert Special Rapporteur on Housing is once again the victim of a baseless Daily Mail smear piece.

Yet again, the Daily Heil has been using the tactics of its best friend Adolf Hitler – the ‘Big Lie’ – to attack a United Nations official whose job is to point out that Coalition government policies are harming the innocent poor.

The Flail‘s tone was Nurembergian – and almost entirely fact-free – as it denounced ‘Brazil Nut’ Raquel Rolnik for imaginary crimes against Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts – the homicidal, if not genocidal, measures that are driving hundreds of thousands of people into destitution and despair.

You see, the Fail is fine with destitution and despair for the poor – its readers are all rich middle- or upper-class housewives who pass their days spending their husbands’ vast fortunes (this is not entirely true, but is exactly the sort of generalisation you can expect from that paper. If you are a Mail reader, it isn’t such fun when you’re the victim, is it?) and gossiping.

The news story is that a group of United Nations poverty ambassadors has written a 22-page letter pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor.

The letter is new but its factual information is not, having been confirmed by the Council of Europe.

The letter states: “The package of austerity measures enacted could amount to retrogressive measures prohibited under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified in 1974.”

Among the benefit changes it highlights are alterations to housing benefit, council tax benefit, working age benefits and the bedroom tax and the benefits cap – which everybody agrees would be a good idea if it had been limited to a reasonable amount, rather than one at which the Conservative-led Coalition could throw people into hardship.

The Mail‘s report pays little attention to the facts, lavishing far more space on Mrs Rolnik herself. It said she had been nicknamed the ‘Brazil Nut’, which she had – by the Daily Mail; and went on to attempt to cast doubt on her authority as special rapporteur on housing and those of fellow UN ambassadors Maria Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the special rapporteur on the right to food.

These are experts in their field who have been engaged by the United Nations – a higher-ranking legal authority than the UK – to investigate government policies, but that’s not good enough for the Mail.

It prefers to get its opinions from tupenny-ha’penny Tory thinktanks.

So it casts doubt. The letter is from ‘ambassadors’ and follows an ‘investigation’, according to the Mail, because putting those words in that way casts doubt upon their validity.

Mrs Rolnik was brought up as a Marxist, the Mail states – as if that has anything to do with her findings. And the report claims she should leave the UK alone and concentrate on problems in her own country, where millions of people live in shanty towns – even though the writer, ‘Jason Groves’, should know perfectly well that her job involves just that.

He clearly doesn’t want you to see her comments on housing in Brazil, prior to the football World Cup which is being held there at the moment: “We expected that the champion of many football cups would use this opportunity to show the world it is also a champion of the right to housing, in particular for people living in poverty, but the information I have received shows otherwise.”

She had received allegations of evictions without due process or in breach of international human rights standards, cases in which residents and citizens had not been consulted and were barred from to participation in decisions that had a grave impact on their standard of living. Concerns had also been expressed about very low compensation that might lead to the creation of new “informal settlements” (shanty towns) with inadequate living conditions or greater rates of homelessness.

“Authorities should avoid at all costs any negative impacts on then human rights of the individuals and communities, especially the most vulnerable… [and] should ensure that their actions, and those of third parties involved in the organization of the events, contribute to the creation of a stable housing market and have a long term positive impact in the residents of the cities where events take place.”

So critics who think she has ignored issues in her home country are wrong.

That’s a bit of a blow to the Mail‘s credibility, isn’t it?

The measures criticised by Mrs Rolnik and her colleagues were brought in “to tackle the huge budget deficit left by Labour”, according to the Mail. Again, this is wrong. The Coalition government has made no real effort to tackle the budget deficit which was necessitated when Labour saved our banking system, the threat having been created by Tory-supporting bankers whose greed put their firms into overwhelming debt. Look at the annual deficit for the last financial year; it is still well above £100 billion. If you agree that the cuts were to bring the deficit down, you have swallowed a lie.

Iain Duncan Smith, the man this blog describes as ‘RTU’ (standing for ‘Returned To Unit’ in tribute to his failed Army career) is reportedly furious at this intervention from the United Nations, which has a duty to intervene if governments of member countries descend into criminality, as has happened with the UK (here’s just one example).

Vox Political has reported extensively on this matter and his arguments carry about as much weight as his retrospective Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act. Take a look at Mrs Rolnik’s report on housing in the UK and the research that supported what she said and then ask yourself if Mr …Smith has got a leg to stand on.

According to the Mail, he said: “They talk down our country, criticising the action we’ve taken to get control of the public finances and create a fairer more prosperous Britain. They simply do not have a clue – and we will not be taking lessons from a group of unelected commentators who can’t get their facts straight.”

“Unelected” and “Can’t get their facts straight” are both criticisms that could be applied with more accuracy to Mr …Smith and his government.

In fact.

Additional: Here’s some more information about Iain Duncan Smith playing fast and loose with statistics, just in today.

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Coalition: Put your own house in order before you patronise foreigners about disability

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition's treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition’s treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Today the Coalition government announced it is showing the developing world how to treat people with disabilities (don’t laugh) – by ensuring that schools built with direct UK funding will have easy access for the disabled.

According to a government press release, Liberal Democrat International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone used the High Level Meeting on Development and Disability at the United Nations in New York – the biggest disability rights meeting in five years – to call on the international community to tackle the ‘great neglect’ of a billion people globally who face unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and justice as a result of disability.

Did her speech make any mention of the ‘great neglect’ of people in her own country who face discrimination on exactly the same grounds, caused by her government?

“Those living with a disability are disproportionately some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world – part of an unseen great neglect,” she told the meeting. “It is telling that of the 57 million children currently out of school in the world today, over a third have a disability.

“As a global community, we have a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable. If developing countries are to move forward into prosperity and greater self-reliance, they must take everyone on the journey.

“That’s why from this day forward, all schools built with the direct support of British taxpayers will be designed to allow disability access.

“With the ongoing discussion of what development should focus on when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability on the agenda.”

Leaders of developing countries would have been justified in looking askance at the British minister while she was making this speech, with her hypocrisy on display for everybody to see.

They would be right to ask themselves: “Is this not a minister from a country that demonises its disabled people? That treats them as a burden on the community? That is trying to purge its society of them?

“Did her government not drive 73 disabled people per week to suicide or death through the exacerbation of their health problems – both brought on by cuts to state benefits and the threat of destitution – during 2011? And is her government not now refusing to provide up-to-date figures on the deaths its policies have caused?

“Does this not mean that deaths of disabled people caused – directly or indirectly – by UK government policies have increased dramatically during this time period, and the same government is trying to cover up the fact?”

It is notable that the government’s announcement landed on the same day that disability activist Samuel Miller received the following correspondence from the office of the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights:

“On behalf of the Special Rapporteur, thank you very much for your communications… Ms Sepulveda is observing very closely the situation with the UK welfare policies and their effects on persons living in poverty, including persons with disability.

“She is doing her best within the limits of her mandate to address such situations not only in the UK but globally through direct engagement with Governments.

“She would like to commend you for your tireless efforts and wishes you all the best in your endeavours.”

In the light of all this, would leaders of developing countries not be right, while thanking the UK government for its well-intentioned offer, to ask why Ms Featherstone feels justified in talking down to them about the disabled when her government refuses to allow those in its own country an opportunity to live with dignity.