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Welfare plans are unfair to the poor, campaigners say

18 November 2010

by Ed Thornton

THE Government has been accused of “an unjustified attack on the poor” and “punitive measures and cost-cutting” after publishing its White Paper on welfare reform on Thursday of last week. It proposes, among other things, the with­holding of benefits for three months from those who, on three occasions, refuse to work.

The Church of Scotland, the Meth­odist and United Reformed Churches, the Baptist Union, Church Action on Poverty, and Housing Justice, in a joint state­ment, said that the proposals were “based on a lack of under­standing of the poor”.

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Alison Tom­lin, said that there was a danger that people in poverty would be stig­matised by government announce­ments implying that they were work-shy.

“The Government seems to assume that if people are forced into working they will comply and their lives will be made better. The poor we meet are seeking to better their lives in difficult circumstances. They are willing to work, but face diffi­culties in finding jobs, in meeting caring responsibilities, and in living on wages offered.”

Anglican clerics and theologians were among those who launched the “Common Wealth initiative”, a Christian network described by the think tank Ekklesia as existing “to oppose government cuts in public spending and welfare provision”.

An accompanying document, Common Wealth: Christians for economic and social justice, says that “the actions of the current govern­ment are an unjustified attack on the poor,” and that “the rhetoric of the Big Society is a Big Lie,” as it “masks oppressive business as usual, suffocating all dissent with its phoney ‘we’re all in it together’ soundbites”.

It warns churches who “seek ways of working with the Big Society agenda” that they “risk colluding with forces and principles fund­amentally at odds with the gospel”; and it calls on Christians “to drag the idea of ‘fairness’ into the light, to expose it as the ideological prop that it is”.

The Evangelical Alliance’s general director, Steve Clifford, said that the welfare system had “allowed a culture of dependency to develop that has led to the jobless digging in their heels when they realise they’re better off on the dole”.

He hoped, however, that the Government could balance its wel­fare reforms so as “to ensure the nation’s commitment to the poor and vulnerable is not lessened”.

The Anglican Chaplain to the University of Sheffield, the Revd Jeremy Clines, was among the sig­natories of a statement on Monday supportive of the protesters against higher university fees who entered Millbank Tower, Westminster, and its grounds on Wednesday of last week.

The statement said that media coverage of the protests at the Conservative Party’s headquarters “presented the violence of a very small minority as worse than that of the Coalition Government, and also tried to tar all who entered the courtyard and buildings of Millbank Tower . . . with the same brush”.

“Jesus’s actions in the temple . . . were similarly shocking to the establishment — and though we cannot and should not claim God’s carte blanche blessing on these actions, we feel it more Christ-like to stand up for those being singled out and vilified for taking a stand than to passively accept the state’s condemnation of them.”

The Student Christian Movement (SCM) also expressed support. Andy Treharne, an SCM member, said: “The majority of protesters expressed their anger in a peaceful and constructive way.”

On Sunday, 25,000 volunteers from more than 200 synagogues are expected to take part in Mitzvah Day, which involves voluntary activity around the country. The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, described it as “a blueprint for the Big Society”.

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