A ROW has broken out between faith 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 last week, signed by 27 Anglican bishops, which
accused the Government of creating a food-poverty crisis by
changing and restricting various benefits.
David Cameron 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 on Thursday of last week that he was "entirely
with them". Archbishop Welby said that the bishops had been writing
from their personal experience as pastors all over the country.
On 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
welfare reform 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 to work. It is surely better to see people in work
rather than on benefits."
Figures from Professor Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University,
suggested that the bishops were out of step with their own
congregations when it came to welfare reform. Fifty-two per cent of
the Anglicans surveyed within 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 - an agenda that goes beyond that of many good
people supporting foodbanks for people in need."
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, the former
Archbishop of Cantebury, Lord Carey, wrote that it was "simplistic"
for bishops to blame cuts in benefits for the hunger crisis.
He said: "There is something Canute-like about resistance to
welfare cuts...The churches should beware of the dangers of
blithely defending a gargantuan welfare budget that every serious
politician would cut as a matter of economic common sense.
"The Church of England is at its best when it avoids party
politics and istead works with all partners to tackle social and
It emerged on Sunday that Mr Cameron had met the leaders of the
Trussell Trust earlier last week.
A spokeswoman from the trust said: "The Prime Minister listened
to our stories of individuals who have been helped by foodbanks,
and 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.
"We hope that this will open the way to further engagement with
Government, enabling us to speak up about the problem of food
poverty in this country to those who have the power to bring about
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.