UK

Welfare cuts unjust, say four churches

  • 31 March 2013
  • From the section UK
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Image caption The churches say poor people are misrepresented as being lazy

Four churches have joined forces to accuse the government of welfare payment cuts they say are unjust and target society's most vulnerable.

The Easter criticism has come from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, and the Church of Scotland.

They also want to see a change to "a false picture" of the poor as "lazy".

The government said society suffered when people were paid more to be unemployed than to work.

A series of changes to benefits are being made in April - including capping rises on working-age benefits at 1% - which will affect hundreds of thousands of households across the UK.

Ministers say they are necessary to tackle the rising cost to the taxpayer.

Rising costs

But the churches accuse politicians and parts of the media of making the cuts easier to impose by misrepresenting poor people as lazy.

The Methodist Church's public policy adviser, Paul Morrison, said the British public had "come to believe things about the poorest in our society which are just straightforwardly not true.

"The public believes that the major cause of poverty is laziness, yet the majority of people in poverty work. How can that be the case?"

And the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union, said "The one interesting fact I find is that the majority, the rise in poverty over the last decade, has been more amongst those on low income than on those who are unemployed."

The government says it has always been clear that the system is failing people, not the other way around.

The Department for Work and Pensions said in a statement: "It's not fair that benefits claimants can receive higher incomes than families who are in work - in some cases more than double the average household income."

Labour estimates that families will be an average of £891 worse off in the new financial year starting this week because of tax rises and cuts to tax credits and benefits introduced since 2010.

The analysis is based on figures published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies think tank.

'Paying price'

Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury backed an open letter, signed by 43 of his bishops, criticising plans to limit rises in working-age benefits and some tax credits to 1% for three years.

He said the current system recognised rising costs of food, fuel and housing by giving benefit rises in line with inflation.

"These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the government," he said.

Image caption The Archbishop of Canterbury said Mr Duncan Smith was "a principled expert on welfare"

In response, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told MPs he did not agree that "the way to get children out of poverty is to simply keep transferring more and more money to keep them out of work".

"The reality is what we're having to do is reform a system that became completely out of control under the last government, get people back in work, for being in work is how you get your children out of poverty."

He said the government was doing "the right thing" in bringing in the benefit caps because "people on low and average earnings will realise, at last, that those on benefits will not be able to be paid more in taxes than they themselves earn."

Archbishop Welby later wrote on his blog that he was questioning one aspect of the government's wide-ranging welfare changes, not condemning efforts to make work pay and improve people's livelihoods which he said were, in general, "incredibly brave".

He said Mr Duncan Smith had spent "hard years turning himself into a leading and principled expert on welfare, its effects and shortcomings".

"He is introducing one of the biggest and most thorough reforms of a system that most people admit is shot full of holes, wrong incentives, and incredible complexity."

'Radical redesign'

Other changes to benefits being made in April include:

  • The introduction of a new benefit, the personal independence payment (PIP), to be rolled out across the UK from 8 April to replace disability living allowance (DLA) for people of working age.
  • Less housing benefit from the beginning of April for UK families living in council or housing accommodation judged to be larger than they need. Only those of working age will see reduced payments.
  • A cap from 15 April, in England, Scotland and Wales, on the total amount of benefit working-age people (16-64) can receive

Meanwhile, the government is scaling back some of its plans to test the new Universal Credit, which will gradually - by 2017 - replace five work-based benefits with one benefit, affecting millions of claimants across the UK.

Ministers planned to allow people to make the new claims in four areas of north-west England from April.

But it has emerged that three of the pilots will not start until July.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps told BBC News the existing system had been "rather a cruel one" because "it costs you more, sometimes, to go to work".

"You ought to be able to go out to work and know you're better off without having to spend an hour-and-a-half in front of a Jobcentre Plus computer trying to do calculations as to whether you'll lose this benefit or that benefit.

"That's what we'll get with Universal Credit and and it means that money that is there can be focused on people who most need it."

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