THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has welcomed the reforms to Universal Credit which were announced by the Government last week.
After the news that the two-child benefits cap for families with children born before the system began in 2017 would not be implemented, Bishop Butler said: “As a just and compassionate society, we believe that every child is a blessing and deserves to be treated equally.”
He went on: “I very much welcome today’s announcement that the two-child limit policy will not be extended to children born before the policy came into effect in April 2017. I also welcome the Government’s more considered approach to moving people on to Universal Credit from the old benefits system.
“I look forward to working with Ministers to continue reviewing these policies as part of a broader, coherent strategy to reduce child poverty, helping parents to give their children the best possible start in life.”
Previously, bishops, including Bishop Butler, as well as the Bishops of Leeds, Ely, and Worcester, signed a petition calling for the Government to “fix” Universal Credit (News, 19 October 2018). Another letter by bishops called on the Government to scrap the two-child limit (News, 6 April 2018).
The Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, told the BBC on Friday of last week: “I’m making a number of changes to our welfare system to make sure that it delivers on the intent, which is to be a safety net and also to be a compassionate and fair system helping people into work.”
In a speech later that day, Ms Rudd said: “I know there is more to be done to support the most vulnerable, and finesse the system so that Universal Credit truly works for everyone.
“The goal is clear: a safety net, but also a system that can transform lives through work — not just financially, but in life chances, health, and social well-being.”
The former Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions committee, said: “I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s decision not to press ahead with what could have been the cruellest benefit cut in history.
“At the eleventh hour, she has prevented thousands of children from being plunged into poverty by an unjustifiable retrospective policy.”
Speaking on Tuesday, the Team Vicar in the Benwell and Scotswood Team, Newcastle, Dr Dominic Coad, said that the benefits system was not designed for compassion.
Dr Coad, who also chairs the Newcastle West End Foodbank (Comment, 23 November 2018), said: “Trying to implement a new benefits system while introducing austerity has been a recipe for disaster.
“We regularly see delays of up to eight weeks in the system: that means eight weeks with no income at all. The DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] has also started using benefits sanctions a lot more agressively.
“The current situation is very frustrating — people may have done something wrong, but whether it is right to punish people by removing food . . . it could have just been an innocent mistake.”
There was “no reason” or justification for the two-child cap, he said: it was the Government thinking “how can we spend less money, let’s take money away from children”.
He went on: “It is extraordinary when the poor are encouraged to have less than two children. We see the human cost of the system all the time. . .
“There is such a small safety net now — with one setback, everything is gone.”