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The poor will suffer most from cuts, say church charities

by
21 October 2010

by Ed Thornton

CHURCH groups and charities warned this week that cuts to public spending, unveiled in the Govern­ment’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on Wednesday, could hit the most vulnerable.

The Children’s Society said that it feared “the creation of the ‘nouveau poor’ among low-paid workers whose families begin to fall below the poverty line and breadwinners who will be joining the dole queue for the first time”.

“The Government has been very vocal in its determination not to make poor people poorer, but we are afraid that the fall-out from the Spending Review will hit these groups the hardest, as the hatchet falls on vital services that support them and pressure is put on their already over-stretched family budgets,” said the director of children and young people’s services for the Children’s Society, Penny Nicholls.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced details of the CSR, which fixes spending budgets for each Government de­part­ment up to 2014-15, to Parli­ament on Wednesday.

The announcement included plans to cut the welfare budget by £7 billion and the likely loss of 490,000 public-sector jobs, but also included £2 billion extra for social care, and an increase in the overseas-aid budget to £11.5 billion by 2015, meeting the United Nations’ com­mitment of 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013.

The Ministry of Justice was one of the government departments hardest hit by the review, its budget set to reduce by six per cent a year. The director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Cook, said that “such cuts will only be achieved by reducing the prison population and closing prisons.” This pre­sented an “opportunity to strategic­ally reduce prison numbers, while changing the way we respond to crime and people who commit offences”.

Church Action on Poverty (CAP) criticised the “fairness premium” announced by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, last week, which aims to mitigate the impact of cuts on poorer families by providing £7 billion for nursery education for disadvantaged two-year-old chil­dren.

Christianity Today reported that a spokesman for CAP, Liam Purcell, said he feared that the money would “not be enough to counter the damage likely to be done to people and communities by the coming cuts in public spending”.

On the eve of the CSR announce­ment, on Tuesday evening, church leaders joined trade unions and civil-society groups at a rally at the Methodist Central Hall, West­minster.

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Alison Tomlin, told the rally that the Church would judge the CSR on how it “treated the most vulnerable”.

“The task the Government has set itself of cutting the deficit to zero in a short space of time while not harming the most vulnerable is a difficult one; some may say an impossible one,” she said.

Ms Tomlin said that her conversa­tions with colleagues “highlighted the fears that they have for the work going on in the com­munities they serve”, including an emergency-housing project in Bir­mingham’s being under threat, and a young-offender rehabilitation scheme in Liverpool’s “wondering if it must close.

“John Wesley and the Methodist Church he founded believe it is inconceivable . . . not to have the welfare of the poor and vulnerable close to your heart.”

Writing in the Church Times this week, the director of mission and public affairs for the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, urges Churches “to judge the cuts by what they say about the Government’s understanding of humanity”.

Dr Brown writes: “[The Govern­ment] wants us to commit ourselves to the Big Society — and the Churches are among the bodies which have responded most posi­tively — but the social vision behind the CSR is not one which strengthens social cohesion.”

On the day the CSR was an­nounced, on Wednesday, Christian Aid organised a lobby of Parliament with the Revd Jesse Jackson, the American civil-rights activist, which, the charity said in a statement, was “aimed at moving climate change and global tax transparency up the political agenda”.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that the rally was “a counter-blast” to those who said that domestic financial pressures meant the international-aid budget should be reduced. “Being there . . . might serve as a reminder that, even with cuts, we are much better off than the vast majority of our fellow human beings.”

Malcolm Brown, Peter Graystone

Malcolm Brown, Peter Graystone

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