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Church ‘reaching the limit’ on what it can do to alleviate poverty, says Dr Inge

04 April 2022

Alamy

A sign for a foodbank in Leeds

A sign for a foodbank in Leeds

THE Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, has criticised the Government’s Spring Statement for not doing enough to alleviate pressures on the poor, and said that the Church was “reaching the limit” as to what it could do to cover the shortfall.

Dr Inge was speaking in a debate on the Spring Statement in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on Thursday of last week.

“While it is clear that the measures announced in the Spring Statement and previously by the Chancellor on energy prices and other measures will help lower-income families, it is far from clear that they will compensate for price inflation,” he said. “The fact is that they most likely will not. It is also the case that, while the increase in prices is universal, the support offered by these measures is not, and there will be vulnerable groups who will not feel their impact.”

Dr Inge said that the Church had been “very active in seeking to alleviate poverty and everything associated with it since the crash of over ten years ago”, but it needed more support from the Government.

Dr Inge pointed to the results of the online Church in Action survey, which suggested that 78 per cent of C of E parishes were running or actively supporting a foodbank last year; this figure had more than doubled in the last ten years (News, 30 April 2021).

He continued, however: “My fear is that we are reaching saturation point on what remedial measures civil society can realistically take.”

The debate was opened by Baroness Penn, who reiterated the measures announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in the Spring Statement on 23 March (News, 25 March). Charities working with disadvantaged people, among them Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and the Children’s Society, have been critical of what they regard as the Government’s inadequate response to the cost-of-living crisis.

Dr Inge referred to the results of a survey by CAP, which suggested that only 20 per cent of adults felt prepared to deal with rising costs; and he quoted the Resolution Foundation’s prediction that, “taking into account the measures announced by the Chancellor”, a further 1.3 million people would fall into poverty in 2022-23, including half a million children. Dr Inge suggested that churches and other organisations would, as a consequence, be under “huge pressure” to “step up and provide additional support to help more people, through things such as foodbanks. . .

“I am nervous about whether we are reaching the limit of what agencies in civil society can realistically do.”

The Conservative peers Lord Horam and Lord Bourne joined cross-benchers and peers from other parties in calling for an increase in Universal Credit. Two weeks ago, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, told the House of Lords that criticism of Universal Credit was “not going to go away”, and he endorsed a report that called on the Government to make substantial changes to the system (News, 1 April).

Dr Inge was also among the peers who called for greater urgency in combating the climate crisis, which he described as “the most serious crisis of our times”. He spoke of being “moved by the experience related by archbishops of the Anglican Communion. . . whose provinces are already being devastated by the impacts of climate change”.

Dr Inge was one of the more than 200 church leaders who signed a letter calling on the Chancellor to use the Spring Statement to promote green energy (News, 25 March).

The Government was criticised by Conservative and Labour peers for not making reference in the mini-budget to the ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, a former Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, welcomed the VAT cuts on energy-saving materials announced in the Spring Statement, but said “we undoubtedly need to do more.”

Baroness Penn, representing the Government, confirmed that the pledge to reach net zero remained in place; she said that the “ultimate goal of a lower-tax economy will be responsible and sustainable”.

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