A GROUP of Churches in the UK has criticised the Government’s latest Welfare Reform and Work Bill for cutting benefits, and making “poor people even poorer”.
In a joint report, Enough: Our responsibility to meet families’ needs, published on Wednesday, the Church of Scotland, with the Scottish Episcopal, United Reformed, Baptist, and Methodist Churches, and Quakers, said that benefit caps proposed by the Department for Work and Pensions will not cover the basic costs of food and clothing.
The report suggests that the current benefit cap, introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012, has reduced benefits by about £3500 per year since 2013, and resulted in a 4.7-per-cent increase of families finding work. New legislation, which will be unrelated to average salaries, would lower the cap by a further £6000 to £20,000 for couples or lone parents, with the exception of those in Greater London.
The Churches called the changes an “unpopular, ineffective, and immoral” attempt to “change the behaviour” of working families. The report pointed to a YouGov survey, commissioned by the Churches, of more than 1500 adults in the UK, in which a quarter said that benefits should be set “deliberately low” to encourage families to find work or increase working hours. Sixty-one per cent, however, said that welfare benefits for families should cover the basic costs of raising a child.
The author of the report, the public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church, Paul Morrison, said that no child should be left wanting in order “to motivate their parents” to find work.
“Any policy that claims that taking £1000 from a family will enhance the life-chances of its children, as the Bill does, is not only supremely questionable but morally flawed,” he said.
The report by the Churches also criticises proposed changes to child tax credit for “deliberately ignoring” families with two or more children. Under government proposals, scheduled to come into effect by 2020, only the first two children would qualify for tax relief.
Mr Morrison said that “fairness” to the taxpayer should not be sought at the expense of “unfairness” to children. He urged the Government to reconsider the Welfare Bill, to give children the “best chance” in life.
The Second Reading of the Welfare Bill in the House of Lords will take place later this month. In the First Reading, last week, the House of Lords defeated government plans to cut tax credits for working families, by 289 votes to 272. It was the first time in 100 years that a financial proposal from MPs in the Commons had been voted down by the Lords (News, 30 October).