Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS is picking up the pieces as social safety nets fail

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 30 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2360
  1. Selina Rajan, research fellow,
  2. Martin McKee, professor of European public health
  1. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee martin.mckee{at}

Health professionals have a duty to speak out

The United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world. For almost three years, this has been repeated endlessly by politicians and media commentators celebrating the country’s achievements and looking forward to an even better future outside the European Union. In May 2019, the same fact featured prominently in two important reports that present the UK in a less positive light.

Nothing Left in the Cupboards, by Human Rights Watch,1 describes a country in which tens of thousands of families lack enough food to live on. The second report, by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights,2 also examines food poverty but goes much broader, covering the many ways in which successive British governments have been “dismantling the social safety net.” Neither report makes comfortable reading for the British government. The Human Rights Watch report talks of “a grim picture of the grinding reality that teachers are dealing with,” with children arriving at school hungry, without warm clothes or dry shoes. Alston describes a situation that is not just “a disgrace, but …

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