THE defeat of attempts by bishops in the House of Lords on
Tuesday to thwart the Government's cap on benefit increases was
marked by speeches challenging their interpretations of
Christianity, and highlighting the level of stipends paid to Church
of England clergy.
An amendment to stop the Government from limiting the increase
in most benefits and tax credits to one per cent for the next three
years (News, 11
January), supported by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim
Stevens, was lost by 206 votes to 275. Bishop Stevens described the
Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill as "ill conceived. It will harm the
most vulnerable . . . and do nothing to promote work
He was immediately challenged by Lord Deben (formerly John
Selwyn Gummer) the son of a C of E priest, who accused him of
suggesting that "we spend money that we do not have on people who
are in need, at a rate we cannot afford. That is not at all a
Christian comment. . . For those of us who were brought up in the
difficulties of a poorly paid Anglican parsonage, the first lesson
that we learnt was to spend within our means."
Speaking on behalf of the Government, Lady Stowell of Beeston
said that the Bill was "a short-term change, made at a desperately
difficult time, as we seek to rebalance the public finances". The
Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, moved an
amendment to exclude child benefit and child tax-credits from the
Bill, which will affect 87 per cent of households with dependent
children, and 95 per cent of those headed by a single parent. He
suggested that the £0.9 billion savings produced by the
child-related parts of the Bill could be met in other ways, such as
reducing tax reliefs on pension contributions. He cited research
indicating that a couple without children would see their income
decrease by 0.9 per cent, while a couple with two children would
see it fall by 4.2 per cent.
His intervention was welcomed by the Labour peer Lady Sherlock,
who praised the Lords Spiritual "for being willing to stand up for
what they believe, despite the inevitable volley of artillery that
came their way the moment they dared to raise their heads above the
The Conservative peer Lord Forsyth of Drumlean suggested that a
"large part" of C of E clergy would be recipients of benefits
because of the wages paid to them: "If the Church of England were
to put up its clergy's wages, less would be claimed in benefits . .
. but that is not a practical proposition . . . because the Church,
like the Government, is faced with a financial crisis."
Bishop Packer's amendment was lost by 221 votes to 261.
Peers will have a final chance to amend the Bill at its third
reading in the House of Lords on Monday.
TUC backs poorest. Research published by the
Trades Union Congress this week suggests that the poorest will lose
proportionally the most from the Government's changes to benefits
and tax credits. By 2015, those in the highest decile will be 0.6
per cent worse off a year, while those in the lowest three deciles
will see income losses of 4.6 per cent.