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