TENSIONS between the Government and Churches have heightened
this week as changes to the welfare system begin to take
The Chancellor, George Osborne, gave a speech on Tuesday in
which he defended changes that come into force this month. These
include introducing a cap on housing benefit; the so-called
"bedroom tax" on spare rooms; and limiting benefit increases to one
per cent (
News, 15 March).
Mr Osborne said that the changes had "one simple principle at
their heart - making sure people are better off in work than on
benefits. . . Our reforms are returning welfare to its most
fundamental principle - always helping the most vulnerable, but
giving people ladders out of poverty. . . In reality, there is
nothing 'kind' about parking people who could work on
Church groups were quick to criticise the Chancellor's speech.
The chief executive of the Church Urban Fund, Tim Bissett, said:
"The Chancellor wants to make work pay. For those trapped by
poverty, sustainable employment is hard to find. People on benefits
are struggling to find social support, and have restricted access
to housing, which in turn means that the most disadvantaged are
excluded from our communities. If the poorest find themselves on
the margins of society, we risk breaking the social contract that
binds us together."
The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed,
said that "working and non-working" families on low incomes were
"being hit by the tax and benefit changes".
The Government was right to be committed to "making work pay",
he said, but he pointed out that "the majority of children growing
up in poverty are in working families struggling to make ends meet.
Low-paid work often simply isn't enough to meet the rising costs of
living, and benefits are vital to topping up family budgets. .
"It is children who will suffer from the Government's failure to
protect them from cuts to welfare. The Government urgently needs to
recognise that it is poverty - not benefits - that blights
Paul Morrison, the policy adviser to the Joint Public Issues
Team, which represents the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland,
the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church, said: "We are
deeply disappointed that Mr Osborne is continuing to use the
misguided rhetoric of people on benefits versus 'hard-working
"The Government's own figures show that most people on benefits
not only want to work, but many of them are already in work, and
paying high rates of tax."
A report published last month by the Joint Public Issues Team,
The Lies We Tell Ourselves, accused the
Government of peddling "myths" and manipulating data to scapegoat
the poorest families in Britain (
News, 1 March).
On Sunday, the report received widespread media coverage after
the four Churches issued a statement saying that politicians and
the media had "misrepresented those who receive benefits . . . in
order to justify spending cuts".
The Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, speaking on the Radio 4
programme The World This Weekend, on Sunday,
said: "Where were these people jumping up and down as those housing
waiting lists doubled under the previous administration? Why
weren't we hearing from the Churches?"
Christian supporters of the Conservative Party came to the
Government's defence this week. Tim Montgomerie, the founder of the
website ConservativeHome, and a co-founder of the Conservative
Christian Fellowship, wrote in The Times on Monday:
"Churches that were silent when youth unemployment soared under
Labour have suddenly found their voice when a Conservative-led
government fights to ensure that more people look for a job rather
than to the State for their income."
A petition calling on the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain
Duncan Smith, to live on £53 a week had attracted more than 360,000
signatures by Wednesday. The petition was launched after Mr Duncan
Smith said on Monday on the Today programme, on Radio 4,
that he could live on that amount.
Question of the Week: Is it right to cut welfare benefits at
THE Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, defended the
Government's policies last week after the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt
Revd Michael Langrish, accused it of treating some families
unfairly, writes Ed Thornton.
Bishop Langrish told The Daily
Telegraph on Thursday of last week that he was concerned that
mothers and fathers "who have made the principled decision to stay
at home" were taking "the financial hit" as a result of the removal
of child benefit from wealthier families with one breadwinner. "It
is unfair, and actually against the Government's own
Speaking on LBC Radio that day, Mr Clegg said: "I don't
actually accept that a lot of the measures that we've taken are
somehow penalising mums, or indeed dads, who take the totally
admirable decision [to stay at home]. . . What we can do is give
the maximum amount of support to parents to make the choices which
they think are right for them."