Government assistance for jobless and self-employed people, plus statutory sick pay, have been found to breach international legal obligations, the Council of Europe has found.

The amount of money available has been described in a report by the European committee of Social Rights (ECSR) as “manifestly inadequate”.

It says a change in the law three years ago to lower the level of health and safety regulation that applies to the self-employed has created a “discriminatory” system that does not conform to the European social charter.

It has also been found that sick and unemployed people are often receiving 40% less than the median income in the UK, which is approximately £152.22 a week.

In conclusion, the ECSR found the UK to be in breach of article 12 of the charter – the right to social security – and article 13, the right to social and medical assistance.

The committee said: “Regardless of the additional social assistance benefits which might be available, the committee considers that the level of these benefits is manifestly inadequate.”

It added: “All workers, including the self-employed, must be covered by health and safety at work regulations as long as employed and self-employed workers are normally exposed to the same risks.”

The analysis of the social security system in the UK was one of 33 studies of signatories to the charter made by the committee, based in Strasbourg, and covered the period from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2015.

When previously challenged by the committee, the Government defended the payment schemes, arguing that the UK paid out £204 billion in benefits and pensions each year. Former welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith described findings criticising the level of ESA payments as “lunacy”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our welfare system is among the best in the world and we are committed to helping people improve their lives. We spend over £90bn a year supporting people of working age, including those who are out of work or on a low income.”

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