Last Friday, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, finished his visit to the UK. In his end-of-mission statement, he savaged the government’s performance on poverty. Key concerns included shortcomings in the functioning of universal credit, the dismantling of the broader social security net through wide-ranging cuts to services, and the disproportionate impact of fiscal austerity on socially vulnerable groups.
‘It's by invitation only,’ a guard at the entrance to the House of Commons told me on Wednesday morning. I was trying to join the people from Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) who had just gone in, uninvited, for a 'warm-up'. The activists had chosen the day of the chancellor’s autumn statement to ask MPs about measures being taken to ensure people can afford to heat their homes. When I got to the lobby, I saw the group surrounded by police. Five minutes later, they were on their way out, chanting: 'No more deaths from fuel poverty.' 'Cold homes kill,' one of their banners said. Winter excess deaths in England and Wales in 2014-15 – the number of people who died between December and March minus the average over the rest of the year – have been estimated by the Office for National Statistics at 43,900, the highest for 15 years. According to the World Health Organisation, at least one third of those deaths are likely to have been caused by fuel poverty.
Over the last three years, the United Nations has been working to establish a global sustainable development agenda to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals, which are about to expire. Unlike the MDGs, which were drawn up by bureaucrats behind closed doors, the new Sustainable Development Goals have been subject to the largest consultation in UN history. Negotiators came up with 17 goals and 169 targets covering everything from abolishing poverty to achieving gender equality to rescuing the planet from climate catastrophe. They are due to be adopted at a UN summit in New York in September. In Addis Ababa last month, member states met to agree on ways to pay for them. The cost of achieving the SDGs is estimated at between two and three trillion dollars a year for fifteen years: roughly 15 per cent of annual global savings, or 4 per cent of world GDP.