Sunday, March 10, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury attacks Government welfare reforms

In his most significant political intervention since taking office, the Most Rev Justin Welby has warned that “children and families will pay the price” if plans to change the benefits system go ahead in their current form. Mr Welby and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, have backed a letter to The Sunday Telegraph written by 43 bishops who say the benefits cuts will have a “deeply disproportionate” effect on children. The move will come as a blow to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is attempting to steer the reforms through Parliament. He has said the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which will cap benefit rises at 1 per cent a year until 2016, is needed to help get spending “back under control” and create a fairer deal for taxpayers. However, Mr Welby, who will be formally enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21, said the legislation will remove the protection given to families against the rising cost of living and could push 200,000 children into poverty. He said: “As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish. “It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing. “The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation. “These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the Government.” Mr Welby added: “Politicians have a clear choice. By protecting children from the effects of this Bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty.” Mr Welby’s intervention signals his willingness to enter political debates on issues he believes are the Church’s responsibility to address, a policy for which his predecessor, Dr Rowan Williams, faced criticism. He has, since taking office, already set out his opposition to the Government’s plans to allow gay marriage. Benefits have risen in line with inflation in the past and this year rose by 5.2 per cent, but the Government’s reforms will limit the annual rises to just one per cent for the next three years. The “umbrella” legislation, which is currently passing through the House of Lords, applies to a wide range of benefits and tax credits, including income support, child benefit, working tax credits and child tax credits. According to The Children’s Society, this will mean that a couple with two children, where one parent earns £600 per week, would lose £424 a year by 2015 under the changes. Among the bishops to sign the letter to this newspaper are 14 of the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords. Although Mr Welby and Dr Sentamu have added their voices to the concerns raised by the bishops, they have not signed the letter – in accordance with a long-standing convention within the Church of England. Dr Sentamu said: “I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns being raised on the impact the changes to the Welfare Benefit Up-rating Bill could have on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, our children. “In difficult times it is right as a nation, committed to justice and fairness, that we protect those that are most in need. “Even in tough economic times we have a duty and responsibility to care for those who are struggling." The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, said: “The bishops feel we have to be involved as it is no longer true to say these people are costing us money because they are feckless or lazy. We are talking about people who are working hard to support their families." Bishop Stevens, who leads the 26 bishops in the Lords, added: “We are facing families who will have to choose from April 1 between buying food for their children and paying their rent, or between feeding their children and turning the fire on.” A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the legislation was important to keep the welfare bill sustainable. He said: “In difficult economic times we’ve protected the incomes of pensioners and disabled people, and most working age benefits will continue to increase 1 per cent. This was a tough decision but it’s one that will help keep the welfare bill sustainable in the longer term. “By raising the personal allowance threshold, we’ve lifted 2 million people out of tax altogether, clearly benefiting people on a low income.” The letter from 43 bishops to The Sunday Telegraph: SIR – Next week, members of the House of Lords will debate the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. The Bill will mean that for each of the next three years, most financial support for families will increase by no more than 1 per cent, regardless of how much prices rise. This is a change that will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty. A third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but nearly nine out of 10 families with children will be hit. These are children and families from all walks of life. The Children’s Society calculates that a single parent with two children, working on an average wage as a nurse would lose £424 a year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a year by 2015. However, the change will hit the poorest the hardest. About 60 per cent of the savings from the uprating cap will come from the poorest third of households. Only 3 per cent will come from the wealthiest third. If prices rise faster than expected, children and families will no longer have any protection against this. This transfers the risk of high inflation rates from the Treasury to children and families, which is unacceptable. Children and families are already being hit hard by cuts to support, including those to tax credits, maternity benefits, and help with housing costs. They cannot afford this further hardship penalty. We are calling on the House of Lords to take action to protect children from the impact of this Bill. Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Rt Rev Richard Frith, Bishop of Hull Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford Rt Rev David Rossdale, Bishop of Grimsby Rt Rev Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Dudley Rt Rev Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter Rt Rev Humphrey Southern, Bishop of Repton Rt Rev Chris Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton Rt Rev David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham Rt Rev Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover Rt Rev Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney Rt Rev John Wraw, Bishop of Bradwell Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle Rt Rev Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster Rt Rev Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead Rt Rev Clive Young, Bishop of Dunwich Rt Rev Tim Thornton, Bishop of Truro Rt Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield Rt Rev John Inge, Bishop of Worcester Rt Rev Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely Rt Rev Alistair Redfern, Bishop of Derby Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester Rt Rev James Bell, Bishop of Knaresborough Rt Rev Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark Rt Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Rt Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford Rt Rev Ian Brackley, Bishop of Dorking Rt Rev Jonathan Frost, Bishop of Southampton Rt Rev Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield Rt Rev David Thomson, Bishop of Huntingdon Rt Rev John Holbrook, Bishop of Brixworth Rt Rev Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester Rt Rev Peter Hancock, Bishop of Basingstoke Rt Rev Andrew Proud, Bishop of Reading Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford

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