THE Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, looked favourably on cathedrals this week, as he pledged a further £20 million to an existing grant-scheme for repairs, which he said had been “enormously successful”.
The extra funding, listed in the Budget on Wednesday, will be available for two years to Church of England and Roman Catholic cathedrals in England. The original £20-million grant-scheme was announced in the Budget two years ago (News, 21 March 2014).
Mr Osborne joked that the additional funding made it clear that “the Conservative party is a broad church.”
The Dean of Lichfield and Chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said: “We are deeply grateful to the Government for the pledge. . . Every cathedral faces steep challenges in keeping this great collection of inspiring and historic buildings safely and properly.”
The Director of Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops’ Council, Janet Gough, praised the Chancellor for recognising the value of cathedrals in the community.
Delivering his speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Osborne repeatedly promised to deliver a Budget “that puts the next generation first”, and said that the UK needed to “act now, so we don’t have to pay later.”
He announced £4 billion in extra cuts, “equivalent to 50p in every £100” of public spending by 2020, to address concern about a “more uncertain” global economy.
This includes cutting benefits payments to more than 600,000 disabled people, in order to save £1.2 billion by 2020. A third of disabled people will be taken off the system altogether, and will lose out on about £3000 a year.
The chief executive of the Christian disability charity Prospects, Mick Ledden, said: “Many of the people we support are anxious at the changes they face due to cuts, and fear they will no longer be able to live their lives to the full.”
The disability allowance, or personal independence payment, is one of the most expensive elements of the welfare Budget. The cash will be used to raise to £50,000, in 2020, the threshold at which people start paying the tax rate of 40p. This will mean that thousands could be pulled out of the higher tax-rate.
On education, the Chancellor pledged his Party to converting every school in the country into an academy by 2022. The move will take control of schools in England from local authorities for the first time since 1902. He also announced that £1.5 billion in additional funding will be spent on education.
In 1811, the National Society was set up to found church schools. In the opinion of David Whittington, who is the education adviser to Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, the firm of solicitors that acts for the National Society: “There are considerable legal, financial, resource, and procedural implications in such a policy and timetable. At first sight, it would appear that further legislation is going to be required in order to enable this policy to be carried out within the timetable publicised, and we await proposals with considerable interest.”
Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, the Rev Nigel Genders, said: “Our primary concern is ensuring children have the kind of education that enables them to flourish and we will work at national, diocesan and local level to ensure our schools are able to continue to offer the excellent education which parents so clearly want for their children. . . recognising the particular challenges that many smaller primary schools will face as they seek to develop such partnerships, especially in rural communities.”The Chancellor also pledged £150 million to help tackle homelessness in the UK; and announced a new £520 million levy on sugary drinks to address child obesity.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, said on Thursday that the extra money to combat street homelessness is “hugely welcome” and that church groups can use large numbers volunteers to make the money go further.
He went on: “However, proposed cuts to the higher levels of Housing Benefit needed to cover the rents for tenants who need both Housing and Support will seriously threaten the continuation of many longstanding specialist schemes run by Churches and Housing Associations that provide help to the most vulnerable.”
Mr Osborne conceded that he had missed his target to cut the debt-to-GDP ratio in the UK this year, and that borrowing was up by £34 billion. He concluded: “Our economy is strong, but the storm clouds are gathering again.”
In a letter to The Guardian on Tuesday, academics and charity leaders, including the director of Church Action on Poverty, Niall Cooper, called on the Government to provide a “transparent account” of how the new Budget will affect households throughout the UK.
“In order to tackle poverty, inequality, and other social ills, it is important that the Government publishes its most robust data, to provide an accurate account of the scale of these problems,” the letter said.