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
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
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
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.
ROBIN C. RICHMOND
Providence Cottage, Burying Lane
The Downs, Bromyard HR7 4NY