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Cuts are hitting the north hardest, Government is told

25 January 2013


Summit: Bishop James Jones at the Arena Convention Centre, Liverpool, on Friday

Summit: Bishop James Jones at the Arena Convention Centre, Liverpool, on Friday

CHURCH leaders have launched outspoken attacks on the Government's austerity programme, questioning the fairness of spending cuts.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, co-hosted a conference in Liverpool last Friday with the city's Mayor, Joe Anderson. Addressing church leaders, MPs, and officials from northern cities, Bishop Jones said that the "severest cuts" in public spending were being endured by cities in the north, such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Blackpool.

Bishop Jones said that he wanted "those with the power to reassure us that the proposed cuts are just and fair". The level of cuts being imposed in the north "does not feel fair", he said.

"I shall be asking the Government to review and re-examine the criteria upon which these cuts have been proposed. . . In short, when the pain is felt, it is important that people believe that not only are these cuts necessary, but they are also fair; and that fairness must surely take into proper account the different level of deprivation which local authorities have to address."

The Dean of Newcastle, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, who has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to complain about "disproportionate" cuts to public funding in the north-east (News, 4 January), told the conference that it seemed that the north was "being pitted against the south", and that spending cuts were pitting "urban against suburban and rural, workers against unemployed, deserving against 'undeserving' poor".

The Dean went on: "The health of a nation is revealed most clearly by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. If that is true, and I'm sure it is, then there is a profound sickness at the heart of our society."

Professor Tony Travers, an expert on local government, told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme that the previous Labour government had "targeted very large numbers of one-off grants at local authorities. . . Cities such as Liverpool had got an enormous amount out of those grants.

"When the present Government took over the local-government funding system, it rolled many of those one-off grants into the more general grant, which, anyway, it was cutting. And that's had the effect of making the reductions in spending deeper in big cities than it is in more rural areas."

Changes to child benefit, which were introduced this month, were criticised by the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, in the House of Lords, on Thursday of last week.

Bishop Langrish said that the changes, which mean that families with one parent earning more than £60,000 will no longer receive child benefit, introduced "significant" unfairness into the tax system.

Bishop Langrish said that the majority of "one-earner families" were "one-earners out of necessity rather than by choice", because, for example, they had young or disabled children to care for.

"This is extremely important, because there are those who give the clear impression that one-earner families should not be helped because all stay-at-home parents should get paid employment," he said. "This is a deeply misguided view that has no regard for the constraints that one-earner families operate in, the sacrifices they make, and their significant contribution to the national well-being."

Analysis published by the charity CARE last week supported Bishop Langrish's argument. Citing figures from the Department for Work and Pensions' Family Resources Survey, CARE said that "out of the 2.2 million UK one-earner families, the majority, or 61 per cent, have dependent children under the age of five, care for someone who is disabled, or bear other responsibilities".

The Work and Pensions Minister, Esther McVey, said last week that the Government's plans to limit increases in benefits and tax credits to one per cent for the next three years ( News, 11 January) would result in "an extra 200,000 children being deemed. . . to be in relative income poverty".

Ms McVey said that the figure should not be viewed "in isolation", and that the Government was "tackling the root causes of child poverty through making work pay".

Bishop Jones pressed the Government again yesterday. Asking a question in the House of Lords on local government finance, he said: "Can the Government not think again in the interests of greater fairness and make more allowance for the highest levels of deprivation in both rural and urban areas?"

In Liverpool, Bishop Jones said, "there is to be a 52% cut in services over four years, which will directly impact upon services to mentally ill children, vulnerable families and the elderly housebound."


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