THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York joined dozens of bishops
this week in challenging the Government over its plans to limit
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which is before Parliament,
would limit the increase in most benefits and tax credits to one
per cent a year for the next three years. The Children's Society
says that the one-per-cent limit is "well below the rate of
inflation predicted by the Treasury", and "will push 200,000 more
children into poverty".
Archbishop Welby issued a statement on Sunday, after the
Sunday Telegraph published a letter, signed by 43 bishops,
which called on the Government "to take action to protect children
from the impact of this Bill". The Archbishops did not sign the
letter, in accordance with convention.
Archbishop Welby said that the Bill would force "children and
families to pay the price for high inflation, rather than the
Government. . . Politicians have a clear choice. By protecting
children from the effects of this Bill, they can help fulfil their
commitment to end child poverty."
The duty to support the vulnerable "should be felt more than
ever" during hard times, and "not disappear or diminish", he
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, also criticised the Bill. He
said: "I understand that 60 per cent of savings from the up-rating
cap would come from the poorest third of households - with only
three per cent from the wealthiest households. That cannot be
The BBC reported on Sunday that "government sources" had
expressed "surprise" at Archbishop Welby's intervention. The Work
and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, told Sky News on the
same day: "There is nothing moral or fair about a system which I
inherited that trapped people in welfare dependency. . . Getting
people back to work is the way to end child poverty." Other
government sources were quoted accusing Archbishop Welby and the
bishops of being "out of touch" with public opinion on the issue of
On Monday, Archbishop Welby published a blog on his website
which attempted to mollify Mr Duncan Smith. The Archbishop was
"absolutely convinced" that Mr Duncan Smith was acting "with the
best possible motives. But, with a number of other bishops . . . I
feel that the particular way the burden is being shared is wrong. .
"So this is not a great, grand political gesture, but a reasoned
questioning of something that a lot of people are concerned
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, a signatory to
the Sunday Telegraph letter, said on Monday that he did
not accept "the rhetoric from the Government" that the Bill would
"incentivise people to work".
He said: "The vast majority of unemployed people desperately
want to work. . . A large proportion of those on benefits are in
"Part of the problem with our economy is that work does not pay
enough to keep parents with several children out of poverty. So,
reducing benefits tips 200,000 children into poverty, including the
children of people like primary-school teachers, nurses, and
soldiers in the army."
Bishop Stevens said that churches were witnessing a "massive
increase" in the use of food banks. "These are not just destitute
people shuffling around for a free bowl of soup. We're talking
about perfectly ordinary families."
The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer,
another signatory, said on Monday that he recognised that the
"fiscal crisis" meant that savings needed to be made, but that "an
awful lot of the savings" which the Government was trying to make
"are actually impinging on children".
He suggested that the Government looked at "tax breaks on
pension contributions for the richest people. . . We need to look
at ways that the burden of the fiscal crisis should fall on those
who can pay for it, rather than those who cannot."
The Bill will be debated at Report Stage in the House of Lords
Bishop Stevens said on Monday that he had offered to lend his
name to an amendment "to remove the notion of up-rating by one per
cent from the Bill". This would be technically a wrecking
amendment, he said.
Bishop Packer said that he intended to table or support an
amendment that would "seek to take Child Benefit out of the Bill,
with the aim of Child Benefit being increased by inflation
following the three-year freeze".
The bishops are also involved in discussions with other peers
about introducing amendments to exclude disability benefits from
the one-per-cent up-rating, and to stop the one- per-cent cap
applying if inflation exceeded three per cent.
Bishop Stevens said: "The poorest people spend the largest
proportion of income on food, fuel, and housing. All those three
items are increasing in cost at above inflation; so the proportion
of your available expenditure you have if you're amongst the
poorest is much higher on food and fuel. If they go up, you're hit
Bishop Stevens said that it was not possible to be confident
that the amendments would carry, because Conservative and Liberal
Democrat peers would be whipped. "But I think there will be
cross-benchers and Labour peers and independent peers who may well
want to support the amendments, particularly on Child Benefit."
Bishop Packer said that, in opposing the legislation, the
bishops were not behaving in a "party-political" manner. "We would
be equally opposed to the way in which children are being treated,
if whatever party was in government."
Bishop Stevens said that it was "nonsense" to suggest that the
Church was assuming the position of unofficial opposition to the
Government, as some press commentators had argued. "If the very
poorest people in our country, choosing each day whether to feed
their children or heat the house because they can't do both, and
the Church has nothing to say - well, that would be a very sad day
for the Church. It has nothing to do with partisan politics and
everything to do with . . . the gospel."
Question of the week: Were the bishops right to oppose the
Welfare Benefits legislation?
Bishops' letter in full:
SIR - Next week, members of the House of Lords will debate the
Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.
The Bill will mean that for each of the next three years, most
financial support for families will increase by no more than 1 per
cent, regardless of how much prices rise.
This is a change that will have a deeply disproportionate impact
on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty. A
third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but nearly
nine out of ten families with children will be hit.
These are children and families from all walks of life. The
Children's Society calculates that a single parent with two
children, working on an average wage as a nurse, would lose £424 a
year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an
average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a
year by 2015.
However, the change will hit the poorest the hardest. About 60
per cent of the savings from the uprating cap will come from the
poorest third of households. Only three per cent will come from the
If prices rise faster than expected, children and families will
no longer have any protection against this. This transfers the risk
of high inflation rates from the Treasury to children and families,
which is unacceptable.
Children and families are already being hit hard by cuts to
support, including those to tax credits, maternity benefits, and
help with housing costs. They cannot afford this further hardship
penalty. We are calling on the House of Lords to take action to
protect children from the impact of this Bill.