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C of E and ‘obscene attack on the poor’

22 February 2013


From Dr Robin C. Richmond
Sir - Of course Iain Duncan Smith wishes to redefine poverty ( News, 8 February), because his and George Osborne's policies are deliberately creating levels of poverty and hardship unseen in the UK since the 1930s. Sixty per cent of median income is the internationally recognised benchmark for poverty; and by this benchmark will the Coalition be judged.

While income-tax rates are reduced from 50 per cent to 45 per cent from April for those earning more than £150,000 a year, of the ten richest EU countries, the UK is now bottom but one in the value of its welfare benefits - a "tsunami of poverty", indeed, to quote the Bishop of Bradford.

Duncan Smith continually uses obfuscation, if not blatant dishonesty, about poverty to justify his continual moralising assertions about the poor and their children. For example, he has referred to welfare payments as "patching", "containing problems and limiting the damage but, in doing so, supporting - even reinforcing - dysfunctional behaviour".

On benefit cuts, "[working] people have watched those on tax credits or benefits see their income rise, outstripping their earnings." Not true; and 60 per cent of those affected by the cuts and caps are in work. On cuts to housing benefit: "the cap was aimed at making lives better by reducing dependency." Making lives better? UK rents increased by 4.3 per cent last year. - more in London. In addition, if you are a social-housing tenant and have one unoccupied bedroom, housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent, and two or more, by 25 per cent. But then, absurdly, he does not believe that losing your house is a serious matter: "the public thinks that homelessness is about not having any accommodation to go to."

His moral agenda is clear: "I think the best sort of language of welfare . . . says that if you do the right thing, we will support you." Duncan Smith actually believes that the poor have only themselves to blame for their plight, and therefore should suffer.

The Christ of the Gospels welcomes the poor, the downtrodden, and the dispossessed without judgement. They shall feast in the Kingdom. Not for Christ is the moralising about deserving and undeserving poor.

Nevertheless, Church of England opposition to the obscene attack on the poor has been patchy. The Rt Revd Lord Williams has always been a public critic. In May 2012, he raised concerns about the growing gap between rich and poor. In November 2011, not all, but 18, C of E bishops, backed by him, writing to The Observer, condemned the benefits cap.

In contrast, the Rt Revd Lord Carey, writing in the Daily Mail this January, actually praised Duncan Smith, saying that the welfare system was "fuelling vices and impoverishing us all". The Occupy movement outside St Paul's Cathedral clearly showed a Church divided on attitudes to wealth and poverty.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury's pronouncement that the Church should "grasp the opportunity" presented by welfare cuts is odd. What opportunity? To put bums on seats? To take over welfare provision from the state? To run food banks?

It is a disgrace to a civilised society that increasing numbers of families are dependent on food banks. Charity encourages a return to the world of Dickens. The Government is by far the best agent to improve the living standards of the poor. Archbishop Welby should be leading the Church in voicing vociferous opposition to the attack on the poor and the dismantling of the welfare state, instead of talking of takeover opportunities. The Church should be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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