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UN rights expert warns Brexit could push more Brits into poverty

Mary Turner, REUTERS | A homeless man sleeps in the cardboard box where he lives, outside Barclays Bank on Fleet Street in London, UK, December 19, 2017.

Britain’s impending divorce from the European Union could drive more people in the UK into poverty unless the government takes action to shield the most vulnerable, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned Friday.

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Philip Alston’s comments came at the end of a 12-day visit to Britain, where he visited nine cities and met with citizens, frontline workers, and officials from a range of political parties in local, devolved and UK governments.

During his visit, Alston spoke to people directly affected by poverty, including some who depend of food banks and charities to survive, homeless families and people who have sold sex in exchange for shelter.

According to the UN, several studies show that the British economy will be worse off following Brexit, scheduled to be triggered at the end of next March.

In his statement, Alston said that the British government is treating the risks Brexit poses to the 14 million people in Britain currently living in poverty as a mere “afterthought”.

“In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one,” he said.

Alston said that after years of progress, the poverty risk in Britain is now on the rise, with homelessness up 60 percent since 2010, and child poverty predicted to rise by 7 percent between 2015 and 2022.

The UN envoy said that policies implemented by successive governments have led to “the systematic dismantling of the social safety net [and} inflicted great misery unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalised, and on millions of children who are locked into a cycle of poverty from which many will have great difficulty escaping.”

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