Bishop of Durham: Government should ‘revisit’ Universal Credit changes or families will suffer

29 March 2018

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The Bishop Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, addresses the House of Lords, on Monday

The Bishop Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, addresses the House of Lords, on Monday

THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has spoken out against the implementation of Universal Credit, and has said that the Government should “revisit” parts of the policy.

Bishop Butler told BBC programme Sunday Politics that he was “deeply concerned” over planned changes that would affect families with more than two children, and said that the move would increase the number of children “living in relative poverty”.

Benefits payments will change, from 2019, under Universal Credit, to give payments only for the first two children of a family.

Bishop Butler said: “The predictions from people like the Independent Financial Services are that the child limit is actually going to have the biggest impact on increasing the number of children living in relative poverty. I would love the Government to have the willingness to revisit that whole policy.”

In his Easter message, Bishop Butler has called for a “real living wage”, saying that Easter was about “discovering real purpose and delight in life”.

He said: “I tie Easter with things like why we need to have a real living wage, not just a minimum wage; why we [the Church] are engaged in tackling poverty; why we are a people of welcome to refugees and asylum-seekers.”

His intervention came as the Children’s Society issued a warning over increased numbers of children living in poverty in the UK. Households Below Average Income statistics, published by the Government last week, showed that 100,000 more children are in relative poverty this year.

The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said that the “shocking child-poverty figures must spur the Government into decisive action to help the 4.1 million children now living in poverty in the UK.”

The figures, he said, “show the toll that systematic cuts to welfare, including the freeze on children’s benefits, have taken on low-income families, and the Government must now urgently review this freeze”.

Data released by the Insitute for Fiscal Studies last week shows that the number of children in absolute poverty has fallen by 300,000, but “child and pensioner relative poverty has risen by 3 ppts each — not due to falling living standards for poor families, but because their incomes have not kept pace with those on middle incomes.”

In 2017, groups of bishops called on the Government to act on child poverty by ending the benefits’ freeze, and to alter the Universal Credit rollout (News, 25 August 2017 and 6 November 2017).

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