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
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
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
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
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 Bill is currently at committee stage in the House of