Welfare reform offers new hope, says David Cameron

General view of a Job Centre Archbishop Vincent Nichols said that the welfare state was becoming "more punitive"

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The prime minister has rejected a claim by Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols that government welfare reform is leaving people in "destitution".

David Cameron said he respected his view but disagreed with it "deeply", in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

Social reform was giving "new hope and new responsibility" to people, and was part of his "moral mission", he wrote.

Last weekend, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales described the changes as a "disgrace".

Archbishop Nichols, who will be created a cardinal on Saturday, told the Telegraph that the welfare state was growing increasingly punitive as the system underwent its biggest shake-up for decades.

David Cameron David Cameron said some of the archbishop's criticism was "simply not true"

The government's welfare reforms include:

  • Introducing universal credit, which combines six means-tested benefits into a single payment
  • Capping the amount of benefits that working-age people can receive
  • Cutting benefits for social housing tenants with spare bedrooms, dubbed the "bedroom tax" by critics
  • Capping rises to most working-age benefits and tax credits at 1%, instead of their increasing in line with inflation
  • Replacing disability living allowance with the epersonal independence payment

Separately, the government has confirmed details of a further restriction on European migrants who apply for benefits in the UK.

From 1 March, they will have to demonstrate that they are earning at least £149 a week before they can access a range of benefits.

'New responsibilty'

Mr Cameron wrote in the Telegraph that the government's economic plan for Britain was "about doing what is right".

Start Quote

For me, the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up”

End Quote David Cameron

He said: "Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me, the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up."

The prime minister argued the archbishop's criticism that the "safety net" for the poorest families was being "torn apart" was "simply not true". Mr Cameron said that reform was right in principle and in practice.

He said the journey to turning the country's economic fate around required difficult decisions.

"But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone - they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope - and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance," he added.

Mr Cameron continued: "Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan - and it is at the heart, too, of our social and moral mission in politics today."

Speaking later on a visit to South West Wales, the prime minister said the benefits system still provided a "safety net" to those who cannot work, but there had to be greater incentives to help people find employment.

Archbishop Nichols is the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in England and Wales and is one of 19 new cardinals globally who will be appointed by Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday.

'Fair system'

The archbishop told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday that something was "seriously wrong" with a welfare system that allowed poorer members of society to remain "in a destitute situation".

Politicians were facing a "moral challenge", he suggested, in living up to "the principle that we have to regard and treat every single person with respect".

Among the latest in a series of measures curbing migrants' access to benefits, ministers announced on Wednesday that EU nationals will have to demonstrate they have earned £149 a week for three months to qualify for "worker" status, opening the door to more generous benefit entitlements.

Labour said the government's handling of welfare had been a disaster, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of young unemployed people for more than a year and a tenfold increase in the use of food banks.

"This government's welfare reforms have penalised, rather than helped, those doing the right thing," said shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves.

"The idea that disabled people hit by the 'bedroom tax', young people desperate for a job but stuck on benefits, and working families struggling to survive on low pay have been given 'hope' by David Cameron is preposterous."

The religion think tank Theos said the debate on benefits needed to look beyond individual policies and consider the fundamental moral question of what "welfare is for".

Publishing a collection of essays by public figures on the subject, it said there was a consensus that individuals had a responsibility to each other, not just themselves.

But it said people need to be able to "connect what they put in to what they get out" of the welfare state and this link "has been lost over recent decades".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.


    Too true. The cost of micro-managing those on benefits is far greater than any money saved, and the proposed changes will only make it more expensive. The social costs of these changes also lead to increased expense elsewhere. But that won't bother ATOS and other companies who are are having a bonanza at the tax-payers expense.

    It's driven by ideology, not common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    Needing food is utter rubbish, as we can see in various images of food banks the luxury brands being givein out. They are eating better than those paying their way. Food is cheap, some are for ever complaining we get too many cals for too little, hence fat. Taking free food is just to free cash for luxuries. Like drink, tobacco, Sky, etc. Benefits are plentiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    If Cameron can leave the repacement for DLA aside why an he not do the same for those ESA claimants who are placed in the Support and make the conditions for placing people in that group bar of course is fair that for example the terminally ill are in that group but it be such strict rule that other worthy claiming simply because in the the short term it saves more money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.

    Why not have a citizens income to cover subsistence?
    It may free up huge resources by everyone not worrying about the need for food/shelter, so that they can engage in genuinely gainful employment.
    It will be interesting to see whether or not the Swiss vote for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    My Brother has a crumbling spine and has recently been passed fit to work even though hes on pain medication the vertebra are wearing away. Im guessing he will be worked into the ground now and then later cost 10x as much to look after because hes stuck in a wheelchair 20 years earlier. It took a right pleb committee to work out the logic to get genuine sick into slave labour.

    Bet your proud DC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    We have companies paying shareholder dividends yet they have workers who have to claim tax credits and housing benefits.
    That means taxpayers are actually subsidising shareholders. Try reforming that first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    The reforms to Disability Benefits have added additional stress to the lives od group of people whose day -to day live are already more stressful due to their conditions. I am a member of that group.) I totally agree with the arch bishop not just because of my disability but as a fellow Christian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    The time was not too long ago, when it would have been enough for just one's vicar, or certainly one's bishop, to advise of peril to one's immortal soul, but in this age of rationalising faith and token faith, even 'forty three Christian leaders', even in the wake of a Cardinal-to-be, stand to be brushed-off as meddlesome by 'hard-working politicians', the point of their labours perhaps missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    SJH @1093
    "No. We CAN'T"
    But, YES. We DO, create money
    As recklessly in FRB as in any pursuit of prices rising in scarcity

    The point to understand is need of responsible intelligence, supported by insight, 'representativeness', on the part of decision-makers top-to-bottom, the millions at their lathes, the lonely leader casting the final vote between whittled down options, say 49% v 51% top tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.

    16. Goves Silly Temper Tantrum
    "The best way to offer hope is jobs, with real prospects. Not McJobs flipping burgers, not Zero Hours contracts"

    But UK kids are brainwashed to believe they're either born intelligent or otherwise, unlike E. Asians who believe, rightly, that they can learn to be intelligent. The former fatalists are made to accept there's perhaps nothing else for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1094.

    1070.David Wilson
    Mr Osborne claimed he would raise over £3 billion from closing loopholes in switzerland. Gave everyone 18 months notice. Took the assumed benefit into account when he claimed he was balancing the books. Think he got less then £1 billion. Why not close tax loopholes in Brit Virgin isles? Gib?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1093.

    1087. All for All

    No. We CANT just print money. If it was that simple everyone would do it all the time. You end up like Weimar Germany always assuming the interest payments don`t get you first.

    Sooner or later you have to pay your bills. I am astonished at the number of people who obviously still believe in Father Christmas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1092.

    What hope can this inept lot give to young people that work pays when even graduates can' t find jobs.There is no reasonably priced accomodation or no reasonably paid jobs in most of the country.Jobs seem to be temporary or zero hours so not worth uprooting for. Making work pay is paying a realistic wage and rent so there is no need for state top ups.I suggest what is paid to a family of 4

  • rate this

    Comment number 1091.

    Think about proposed changes by Cameron. On benefits, signing on every day. Round here, that's bus rides to alton then aldershot. Who pays? Who looks after the children? What if there's only 2 buses a week? They don't all have cars. Education for work - again - same questions. It's not thinking it through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1090.

    A Benefits Review was overdue, but as usual, this government has broke its neck to roll out changes without adequately thinking it through! It is disgraceful to take the attitude that we'll sort stuff out as we go, these are people's lives we are talking about. There is an inadequate safety net for those with mental illness (often misunderstood). Result, a tragic loss of life due to suicides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1089.

    The eternal Tory garbage that has been spouted for what seems like ever. They continually seem to think that the entire planets resources are there for the benefit of a privileged few and that the rest should be grateful to labour continuously so that we can keep them in obscenity. Time to throw these arrogant clowns out and and return us a fairer, more egalitarian society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1088.

    A fairer way of introducing the change to disability benefit would be leave ESA aside from the universal credit unitil the only people in the work related activity group are those who truel have a realistic chance of gaining and maintain work at the end the process and onlythe ESA given to those claimants within the Universal Credit Sysetem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1087.

    SJH @1074,1081
    "I think"
    Wrong again

    To labour 'the point': ordering of merit (for reward in a better world) is absurd, belittling, dangerous, reflecting ignorance fatal if widespread as to shared need for equal partnership, for rich Tio Terry happily to 'call it a day' in castle-build

    We DO 'print money' (FRB) & COULD print 'as much as we need', to stave-off deflation & secure ESSENTIALS etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 1086.

    Tax is too high in this country, I have an average salary and the tax and NI deductions are astounding! They then get wasted by inefficient public services where about 10p gets us about 3p if value. Inheritance tax is a scandal now that everyone's property makes them rich only on paper. All these stealth taxes: council, license fee, uni fees, road tax, passport fees etc.We need tax reform.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1085.

    1080.Tio Terry
    you claim to run a high end property rental company yet cant figure out how a minimum living wage could be applied in this country.
    Sorry but that leaves me with two conclusions about you and one has to be true.
    Either you are being deliberately disingenuous to avoid admitting a living wage is not too hard to make work or you are too thick to be running any real company


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