A ROW has broken out between church leaders and the Government
over the impact of reforms to the welfare system.
The war of words was sparked by a letter in the Daily Mirror on
Thursday of last week, signed by 27 Anglican bishops and by leaders
from other denominations, which accused the Government of creating
a food-poverty crisis by changing and restricting various
The Prime Minister denied that his Government was to blame for
up to 500,000 visits to foodbanks last year. He said that he was on
a "moral mission" to end dependency on welfare payments.
But the Bishops received backing from the Archbishop of
Canterbury, who said last week that he was "entirely with them". He
said that the Bishops had been writing from their personal
experience as pastors in different parts of the country.
Last Friday, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams
wrote in the Daily Mirror that those who were forced to use
foodbanks were not scroungers, but instead "drawn from the six
million working poor, people who are struggling to make ends meet
in low-paid, bitty employment".
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent
Nichols, had earlier also criticised the Government, writing that
its welfare-reform programme was a "disgrace" that had left the
poor in "destitution" .
In response, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said on
Friday that Cardinal Nichols and the Bishops - whose letter was
also signed by representatives of Quakers, Methodists, and the
United Reformed Church - were "exaggerating" the scale of the
Speaking on his LBC radio show Call Clegg, Mr Clegg said: "What
we are doing is simplifying the system and sharpening the incentive
Statistics from a research project led by Professor Linda
Woodhead, of Lancaster University, and published last week, suggest
that the Bishops were out of step with many in their congregations
over welfare reform. Fifty-two per cent of Anglicans questioned in
a wider survey agreed that the welfare budget needed to be cut.
Conservative politicians have accused the Church of trying to
discredit the Government's programme. The MP for Enfield Southgate
and the chairman of the
Conservative Christian Fellowship, David Burrowes, said:
"Whether deliberately or not, the Bishops have been used as pawns
in a wider political agenda."
The Trussell Trust, the charity that co-ordinates hundreds of
foodbanks across the country, however, said that it was not
involved in party politics.
The Bishops' letter was released to mark the launch of the End
Hunger Fast campaign, which is calling for a national fast in April
to highlight the growing problem of food poverty.
In an article for The Times on Tuesday, another former
Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, wrote that it was
"simplistic" for Bishops to blame cuts in benefits for the hunger
crisis. "There is something Canute-like about resistance to welfare
cuts. . . The Church of England is at its best when it avoids party
politics and istead works with all partners to tackle social and
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Cameron denied that the
Bishops' letter had got it right on welfare reform, and instead
quoted from Lord Carey's article.
It emerged on Sunday that Mr Cameron had met the leaders of the
Trussell Trust in the early part of last week. A spokeswoman from
the Trust said: "We had a good discussion about how Trussell Trust
foodbanks work; what our data shows; and what we believe to be the
main causes of increased foodbank use."
Last year, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith,
refused to meet the chairman of the Trussell Trust, Chris Mould,
and accused him of politicising the foodbank debate (News, 3