THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, used his
presidential address to deliver a lengthy critique of contemporary
poverty in the UK, and speak of the growing numbers of working
people impoverished by wages that had failed to keep up with the
rising cost of living. "Something new and terrible is happening to
our society," he said. "We see it all around us: poverty. More and
more people are living below the breadline. Some nine million
He used the town of Middlesbrough as an example, where "churches
of all denominations are currently running 276 activities designed
to help the vulnerable. It has been calculated that these
Middlesbrough schemes amount to 800 hours of love-in-action each
He said that the "extraordinary feature" of the "new poverty"
was that "many of the 'new poor' are in work. Once upon a time, you
couldn't really be living in poverty if you had a regular income.
You could find yourself on a low income, yes, but not living in
poverty. But that is no longer so."
Dr Sentamu said that the annual salaries of the chief executives
of the 100 largest companies in the UK reached an average of £4.3
million last year - 160 times the average wage. "Those packages
have quadrupled in the past ten years while no one else has had a
proper increase at all."
He quoted from a recent World Health Organisation report, the
Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide in the WHO
European Region, which linked social inequalities to health
inequalities. The report said that "social injustice is killing
people on a grand scale," and found that children were more likely
to die in Britain than in many other European countries.
Dr Sentamu told the Synod that the Yorkshire Post had
recently reported that the number of people admitted to hospital in
Leeds to be treated for malnutrition had trebled; and he asked:
"How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were
diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds - not Lesotho,
not Liberia, not Lusaka, but Leeds?"
He said that "the impact of welfare reforms is now beginning to
bite, with reductions in housing benefits for so-called
under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for
workless householders and single parents, and the gradual
replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with a Personal
He referred to the Peruvian priest Fr Gustavo Gutiérrez OP, who
coined the phrase "preferential option for the poor".
Dr Sentamu said: "The Church of England, I believe, has arrived
at another such moment: the preferential option for the poor.
Confronting poverty is again rising to the top of the agenda. .
"Poverty is costly, wasteful, and risky. It seems to me that we
in the Church of England must make the argument that losing human
potential at a time when we need all the capacity we can gather is
hugely wasteful, [and] that paying people below the level required
for subsistence fractures the social contract . . . and that this