Kwasi Kwarteng was branded “absolutely shocking” after dismissing a UN report which uncovered “staggering” levels of child poverty by talking about “good management of the economy”.
The Brexit minister was confronted on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show with the plight of brain-damaged teenager Emily Lydon, who faces losing her home as part of her move to Universal Credit.
The 19-year-old was asked to attend a work capability assessment but is deaf and cannot walk because her mother contracted the human form of mad cow disease (BSE) when she was pregnant with her.
Kwarteng called it “a sad story” and said “what [the government has] done is manage to reduce the deficit”.
It comes after professor Philip Alston, special rapporteur for the UN on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a “state of denial” about the levels of child poverty in Britain.
Prof Alston found “a lot of misery, a lot of people who feel the system is failing them, a lot of people who feel the system is really just there to punish them” during his 12-day tour of UK cities.
But Kwarteng simply said “I don’t know who this UN man is” and claimed “it is a total distortion to suggest that the government has somehow mismanaged the economy”.
When faced with Emily Lydon’s story, he said: “I spent 18 months as the Chancellor’s PPS. I got to know the Treasury very well.
“I was involved in the last Budget. If you look to the last Budget, which was very, very well received, you could see the benefits of good and strong economic management.
“What we’ve done is manage to reduce the deficit, I know Polly doesn’t like going on about it, but the actual economic framework which this country is in is a very strong one.”
Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who was also a guest on the flagship politics show, pointed to the Sunday Times article which featured Lydon’s story and said: “They were the ones that paid the price.”
To which Kwarteng replied it was “a sad story” and went on to criticise Labour’s nationalisation agenda as being likely to drive up debt.
Marr then pressed Kwarteng on the UN report, calling it “shameful”.
Kwarteng said: “I don’t know who this UN man is. He obviously comes from the UN but I don’t know what his particular background is and he came up with a report.
“Now, poverty, the benefits, the difficulty people have: that’s absolutely something we should be focused on but I think it is a total distortion to suggest that the government has somehow mismanaged the economy to the extent where this is a massive problem.”
Kwarteng’s appearance on the show was greeted with a torrent of criticism on social media: