Osborne’s view of poor ‘out of a Victorian novel’

10 January 2014


New take: Church Action on Poverty's recent campaign poster echoes that created by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the prominent Conservative Party campaign for the 1979 General Election 

New take: Church Action on Poverty's recent campaign poster echoes that created by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the promin...

THE picture of the poor painted by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his speech on Monday, belonged in "the pages of a Victorian novel", the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, said this week.

"I do not recognise in the poor of Britain the image that [the Chancellor's] plans suggest, that of a feckless underclass, choosing to sponge off the state, laughing at those of us who work hard for a living," he said on Wednesday.

Mr Osborne set out the next steps of his economic plan on Monday, at a speech in Coleshill. "The plan is working," he said, citing the creation of one million new jobs, and a reduction in the deficit by a third. "I say: let's finish the job."

He warned that 2014 would be "the year of hard truths", before setting out plans to make cuts of more than £60 billion over the course of the next four years. "Government is going to have to be permanently smaller - and so, too, is the welfare system."

A total of £12 billion of further welfare cuts would be needed in the first two years of the next Parliament, he said. He warned of a welfare system that "offers up benefits as a lifestyle choice", and gave the long-term unemployed "something for nothing". In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he suggested cutting housing benefit for those under 25, and restricting council housing for those earning more than £65,000 a year.

On Wednesday, Bishop Walker agreed that, "In an economy that can never be trusted to grow consistently, it is fair to say that the proportion of national income spent by government will need at some stage to return to something closer to the historic post-war average." But "whether it should be falling so quickly" was a matter for debate.

He expressed concern about the emphasis on cuts to welfare: "At the heart of the Old Testament lies the fact that the prime purpose of government . . . is to ensure a fair deal for those who do not have the clout to grab their slice of the cake. The poor, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner are the ones who provide the testing-bed for whether a ruler is exercising their power in accordance with God's will."


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