A UNITED Nations report which says Wales has the highest levels of relative poverty in the UK makes for “grim reading” according to a local campaigner.

Powys anti-poverty champion Cllr Joy Jones says the UK Government needs to look seriously at the issues raised in new research by UN Special rapporteur on extreme poverty Professor Philip Alston, which said the country had pursued a “harsh and uncaring ethos” since 2010.

The report says almost one in four people in Wales is living in relative income poverty, with 25 per cent of jobs paying below minimum wage.

“There is wide consensus that benefit changes are one of the structural causes behind the increase in poverty, rough sleeping and homelessness in Wales,” said Prof Alston.

“The philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010. The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal ‘cure’ for poverty. But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the government chose not to adjust course.

“Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, de-personalisation, stigmatisation, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights.

“This is a very far cry from any notion of a social contract, let alone of social human rights.”

Last week a report authored by researchers at Loughborough University estimated that 7,300 Powys children were living below the poverty line, while statistics compiled by the County Times earlier this month showed record levels of food bank use across the county.

Cllr Jones, who is councillor for the Newtown East ward on Powys County Council, said the problem was a “serious epidemic”.

“Universal credit has hit many people hard along with changes to disability allowances and people finding they have to fight to have their benefits to be reinstated after being told they are fit to work, when clearly they are not,” she said.

“We are hearing of more and more pressure on the food banks, who are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with the demand.

“People often think it is only those on benefits who are in poverty but many people who are working extremely long hours are finding it hard to make end meet and stretch their wages. We need our government to have a serious look at the way people are struggling,” she added.

The report says that a fifth of the UK population now lives in poverty according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare, and called on the UK Government to introduce new poverty measures as part of plans to tackle the issue.