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Presidential address

Geoff Crawford

Archbishop of York

Archbishop of York

THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, used his presidential address to deliver a lengthy critique of contemporary poverty in the UK, and speak of the growing numbers of working people impoverished by wages that had failed to keep up with the rising cost of living. "Something new and terrible is happening to our society," he said. "We see it all around us: poverty. More and more people are living below the breadline. Some nine million people altogether."

He used the town of Middlesbrough as an example, where "churches of all denominations are currently running 276 activities designed to help the vulnerable. It has been calculated that these Middlesbrough schemes amount to 800 hours of love-in-action each week."

He said that the "extraordinary feature" of the "new poverty" was that "many of the 'new poor' are in work. Once upon a time, you couldn't really be living in poverty if you had a regular income. You could find yourself on a low income, yes, but not living in poverty. But that is no longer so."

Dr Sentamu said that the annual salaries of the chief executives of the 100 largest companies in the UK reached an average of £4.3 million last year - 160 times the average wage. "Those packages have quadrupled in the past ten years while no one else has had a proper increase at all."

He quoted from a recent World Health Organisation report, the Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide in the WHO European Region, which linked social inequalities to health inequalities. The report said that "social injustice is killing people on a grand scale," and found that children were more likely to die in Britain than in many other European countries.

Dr Sentamu told the Synod that the Yorkshire Post had recently reported that the number of people admitted to hospital in Leeds to be treated for malnutrition had trebled; and he asked: "How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds - not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka, but Leeds?"

He said that "the impact of welfare reforms is now beginning to bite, with reductions in housing benefits for so-called under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for workless householders and single parents, and the gradual replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment."

He referred to the Peruvian priest Fr Gustavo Gutiérrez OP, who coined the phrase "preferential option for the poor".

Dr Sentamu said: "The Church of England, I believe, has arrived at another such moment: the preferential option for the poor. Confronting poverty is again rising to the top of the agenda. . .

"Poverty is costly, wasteful, and risky. It seems to me that we in the Church of England must make the argument that losing human potential at a time when we need all the capacity we can gather is hugely wasteful, [and] that paying people below the level required for subsistence fractures the social contract . . . and that this is risky."

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