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God does not trickle down his love’: Bishop of Durham criticises Government’s economic plan

11 October 2022

Bishops join in debate on Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s economic strategy

Parliament TV

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, speaks in the House of Lords on Monday afternoon

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, speaks in the House of Lords on Monday afternoon

THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, criticised the Government’s economic plan on Monday, during the first House of Lords sitting since the Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced his first mini-Budget last month (News, 23 September).

Responding to the Government’s defence of it’s “growth plan”, Bishop Butler said: “Poverty is in plain sight. Yet a policy of trickle-down economics renders those in poverty invisible. Like Lazarus waiting to eat what fell from the rich man’s table, trickle-down policy does not address urgent needs. These people cannot wait for the benefits of an economic policy to trickle down.

“This is especially the case for children and young people. . . Children do not have time to wait for the pie to grow — they need meaningful investment now. God does not trickle down his love for us, he pours it out extravagantly. Jesus’s priority was to lift up the poor, not wait for some small advance to trickle down.”

The Conservative peer Lord Lilley said later in the debate that he took Bishop Butler’s “biblical injunctions to heart”, but that “there is no free market economist who believes in anything called ‘trickle-down economics’; that is a fantasy of his [Butler’s] imagination.”

In his speech, Bishop Butler went on to quote the saying of Jesus that “You cannot serve both God and money,” and said: “We must ask ourselves who we serve when developing economic policy. Is it for the benefit of a select few, or is it those who are poor and most vulnerable, those whom God expects us to protect and care for first and foremost?”

Bishop Butler suggested that the focus on economic growth was important, but that “growth must have the most vulnerable in sight. It must not be a growth of greed, but of supply, sufficiency, and contentment.”

To this end, he called on the Government to increase social-security payments in line with inflation, and to make “meaningful investment now” for the benefit of children.

The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, also raised the subject of child poverty during the debate. “Some 4.3 million children in the UK are growing up in poverty, and the Children’s Society calculates that not uprating benefits would add another 200,000 to that number,” she told the House.

Bishop Lane concluded her speech: “I trust that, as we take note of the economy and the Government’s growth plan, we will prioritise those who are at the margins of our society to reduce further inequality, especially as it impacts our nation’s most vulnerable children.”

The mini-Budget was defended by Conservative peers, including the Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who opened the debate. “With economic growth, everyone benefits,” she said.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe outlined the Government’s priorities: “Cutting taxes to boost growth, reforming the supply side of the economy, and maintaining a responsible approach to the public finances.”

A recent policy reversal, in which the Chancellor’s proposed cut of the Additional Rate of tax was scrapped after the pound fell as markets responded to the mini-Budget, was described by Baroness Neville-Rolfe as necessary because the policy had become a “distraction”.

The tax cut had been criticised by, among others, the Children’s Society and the Roman Catholic Church’s Caritas Social Action Network (News, 30 September).

Opposition and cross-bench peers repeated criticisms of Mr Kwarteng’s mini-Budget in the debate on Monday. Baroness Blackstone (Labour) said that she had “never seen such a shocking failure in government policy-making”.

Lord Macpherson, a cross-bench peer and former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury (2005-16), said that there were “some sensible policies in the Government’s growth plan”, but noted that the effect of the proposed tax cuts had been to drive up the cost of borrowing.

“If the Government cannot show how they will cut spending, they will need to revisit their tax proposals,” he concluded.

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, made his final speech in the Lords, before his retirement (News, 13 May).

Bishop Urquhart, who has been the Convener of the Lords Spiritual for the past seven years, said that he was “glad to see the governing party described by the Prime Minister, after the Chancellor’s Statement, as one of ‘aspiration, enterprise and growth’. I like that phrase because it describes exactly what I have been trying to do in the Church for the last 40 years.”

He said, however, that the Government had to answer the “difficult questions faced by all of us” about for whom wealth was created “in an unequal society”.

The Bishop welcomed the proposal of deregulated “investment zones” around the country, and called for further economic devolution to regions.

Baroness Noakes (Conservative) suggested that “there is no moral high ground in redistribution.” But there was, she said, a “moral duty to support those in need. . . The best route to that is a successful economy. On the flip side, it is morally wrong to impoverish everyone by holding back people with potential for success.”

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, focused on the environmental impact of the growth plan, articulating “concerns about ending the pause on extracting reserves of shale gas, and a new round of licences for oil and gas extraction.

“These are retrogressive steps that will harm not only our progress in attaining vital environmental targets but our credibility in encouraging other nations to respond to the climate crisis.”

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