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Bishop warns of destitution after benefit changes

01 March 2013

THE Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Timothy Stevens, has accused the Government of promoting the argument that "we cannot as a nation afford to provide enough to keep the poorest out of destitution."

In the House of Lords on Monday, Bishop Stevens moved six amendments to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which will limit the rise in most benefits and tax credits to one per cent for the next three years ( News, 11 January).

The amendments sought to en-sure that the Universal Credit, which will replace a range of existing benefits from this autumn, is excluded from the scope of the Bill, and to guarantee that "work will always pay, and that all working families are able to afford a minimum, decent standard of living".

Bishop Stevens said that Universal Credit should be excluded because it had "only just been established by the Government". Including it "amounts to a cut to the new scheme before it is even introduced". Most of the families protected by the amendment would be working households: thus it would "promote work incentives"; and it would also protect 6.7 million children from "some level of impact".

The cost would be "relatively limited", because claimants were only gradually being moved to the Universal Credit. He estimated that removing Universal Credit from the scope of the Bill would cost £600 million, up to 2016.

The amendments also proposed excluding from the scope of the Bill allowances provided through working tax credit, personal allowances within housing benefit, and work allowances in Universal Credit. Bishop Stevens warned that failing to up-rate this last benefit would cost working single-parent families £23 per month.

The Government's spokesperson for Work and Pensions, Baroness Stowell, said that the amendments would cost £800 million in total. "We have to recognise that if we do not take the savings that this Bill provides in the way it does, this money will have to be found elsewhere."

Under the previous Government, eligibility for tax credits had been extended to nine out of ten families. It was "unrealistic" to exclude benefits received by working people, she said.

Bishop Stevens withdrew his amendments, but hoped that it was clear to the Minister that "many people in the House doubt whether the argument that we cannot, as a nation, afford to provide enough to keep the poorest out of destitution sits at all comfortably with the House".

The Bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords.

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