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Bishops challenge Government on cost-of-living and climate crises

19 May 2022

Parliament TV

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, gives a maiden speech in the House of Lords, on Monday

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, gives a maiden speech in the House of Lords, on Monday

BISHOPS in the House of Lords continued to challenge the Government’s response to the cost-of-living and climate crises this week, as debates on the Queen’s Speech of last week (News, 13 May) entered a fourth day.

On Monday, debate focused on economic development, energy, and the environment. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, said: “The climate crisis is the multiplying factor for all the other crises we face.”

In his maiden speech, Bishop Seeley dedicated much of his time to environmental issues. “Global temperature rises will dramatically increase the global refugee crisis and food shortages, and the geopolitical impact will continue to be magnified,” he said.

“We must pursue the determined course set at COP26, where we take actions —challenging actions — now, for the sake of the long term.”

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who is the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment, wrote of the agreement at COP26 that “progress was made . . . but not enough” (Comment, 18 November 2021).

Bishop Seeley acknowledged the leadership shown by Bishop Usher, and concluded his speech by saying: “It is time for implementation and action — acting now for the long-term future and acting with clear and committed leadership.”

Baroness Penn opened the debate for the Government. Speaking about the Financial Services and Markets Bill, she described the Government’s intention to “cut red tape” in the financial-services industry.

“Our departure from the European Union means that there is now an opportunity to better tailor our legislation to better suit our markets,” she said.

Baroness Kramer, a Liberal Democrat peer, suggested, however, that “this is an issue about which we have to be extraordinarily careful,” arguing that any attempt to “win the race to the bottom on competitiveness” in financial regulation risked a rerun of the 2008 crash.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, a Labour peer, criticised the Government’s economic record and response to the cost-of-living crisis. “The Conservative Party has become the party of high taxes and low pay, and the latest National Insurance increase means that millions will be taking home even less,” she said.

On Tuesday, attention turned to education, welfare, and health policy. The Schools Bill was put forward by Baroness Stedman-Scott, a government minister, as a chance to “level up standards”. The Bill proposes changes to the academy system to ensure more accountability, and to give local authorities some power to create academies.

Responding for the Labour Party, Baroness Wilcox of Newport said that “one-size-fits-all academisation” was all that the Government offered, and was “an ideological approach, rather than looking at the evidence”.

She asked: “How many more times are the Government going to rearrange the classroom desks, hoping for a better outcome?”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, welcomed reforms that will make it easier for faith schools to join academy trusts (News, 1 April). He warned, however, that doing so would be expensive. He expressed his hope that the Government “will be sufficiently resourced for this through a budget which shows commitment to children’s holistic well-being through education”.

He continued: “Speaking of children’s well-being leads me to note the lack of action [in the Government’s agenda] to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis.”

Last month, Bishop Butler urged the Government to “act with compassion, and give people the dignity of being able to put food on the table” (News, 29 April).

He has also called repeatedly for the removal of the two-child limit for Universal Credit, previously describing it as “the main driver of rising child poverty” (News, 20 July 2021). On Tuesday, he announced that he had tabled a Private Member’s Bill to abolish the limit.

“Every child is of great value, and, as education is prioritised, we must recognise children as whole people whose welfare needs are inextricably linked to their education,” he said.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer, focused her speech on the Government’s health policies. “The vision we should be striving for is one of mutual flourishing, generosity, and abundance,” she said. “This is also known as the Jewish and biblical concept of shalom, which can be summarised as experiencing wholeness, or a state of being without gaps.”

Currently, she said, the falling numbers of medical staff in the NHS mean that “we are overlooking prevention of ill health and, by not investing sufficiently now in health coverage, we are storing up increased expenditure in the NHS in future. . .

“I would like this Government to adopt models and practices that embody efforts to design a more holistic health service. It is an approach that needs to happen if we are to take the levelling-up agenda seriously.”

Baroness Stedman-Scott also introduced the Conversion Therapy Bill, and confirmed that transgender conversion therapy would not be covered, but that the Government would “consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy”.

Baroness Brinton, a Liberal Democrat peer, said that “banning conversion therapy is absolutely the right thing to do.” She went on to say, however, that “it is not right to exclude trans and non-binary people from the ban.”

Last week, after the announcement of the Bill in the Queen’s Speech, Jayne Ozanne, who campaigns for LGBTQA+ inclusion, particularly in the Church, said: “The Government’s own research shows that trans people are twice as likely to be offered conversion therapy, and it is utterly immoral that they have purposefully omitted them from the ban” (News, 10 May).

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