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Church representatives plead with Boris Johnson not to cut Universal Credit

28 September 2021


Clothing and shoes bins for donations to support the work of the Salvation Army, outside a supermarket in Ayrshire, Scotland, last month

Clothing and shoes bins for donations to support the work of the Salvation Army, outside a supermarket in Ayrshire, Scotland, last month

MORE than 1100 church leaders have made a last-ditch plea to the Prime Minister to halt next month’s £20-a-week cut in Universal Credit.

In an open letter to Boris Johnson, they say that the withdrawal of the £20 uplift, introduced in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, would result in millions of low-income households’ being swept further into poverty.

They write: “As Christians, we are compelled by the gospel imperative to prioritise the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. As church leaders, we must speak up, because of the impact this will have on our poorest neighbours and church members.

“We urge the Government to choose to build a just and compassionate social security system that our whole society can have confidence in.”

Their plea has been organised by Church Action on Poverty and Christians Against Poverty.

One of the signatories, the Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Revd Sophie Jelley, said: “With the increase in food and energy prices, together with the impact of the pandemic on household income, I am extremely concerned about families and households already struggling to make ends meet.”

The Bishop of Selby, Dr John Thomson, said: “The proposed cut comes at a time when the future of the pandemic remains uncertain, and at the very point when the furlough scheme ends. It will also coincide with significant increased costs for electricity and gas, just when the weather begins to turn, and is a concern which has been expressed widely by all organisations who work with the poorest, and those who monitor the impact of such policies on them.

“I accept that this is a major cost to the nation as a whole, but believe that those in most need must be protected by the nation.”

The signatories represent a wide range of churches. A sample, from the middle of the list, reads: Malcolm Lindo, Felpham Methodist; John Lindsay, Antrim Elim; Jane Linley, Our Lady of Kirkstall; Andy Littlejohns, Chorley URC; Trevor Lloyd, Community Church Huddersfield; Sarah Lock, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich Diocese Cursillo. They have been working with some of the country’s poorest families, and on that basis predict the hardship for many in the coming winter.

The chief executive of Christians Against Poverty, Paula Stringer, said: “If the cut goes ahead, many will be forced to make impossible choices. They’ll be faced with the very real prospect of falling into arrears, and having to choose whether to eat or put the heating on to stay warm. No one should ever have to choose between food or heating, it’s simply not right.”

Niall Cooper, the director of Church Action on Poverty, said: “With food and fuel costs rising sharply, we know millions of families are struggling to stay afloat. The breadth of support for this letter reflects the wider public’s desire for a just and compassionate economy.”

An officer of Church at the Margins and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference, Eunice Attwood, urged government ministers to visit a church project to see the difference that £20 a week makes. “We believe that everyone should be able to fulfil the potential God has placed within them, and that we should do all that is necessary to prevent people being held back by poverty,” she said.

Earlier this month, a coalition of 100 organisations, including both groups caring for the disadvantaged and the Conservative think tank Bright Blue, called on the Prime Minister to halt the cut, saying that it would fundamentally undermine the government’s mission to level up (News, 10 September). And, in August, church leaders in north-east England urged the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, not to end the £20 uplift (News, 20 August). Many recipients, they said, are not unemployed but in low-paid work, and continue to need the additional income.

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