Bishops sign open letter criticising welfare reforms

A man and his daughter on a council estate in Derby The government says the changes will save £7bn in welfare spending

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Eighteen Church of England bishops have signed an open letter, criticising the government's proposed welfare changes.

In the letter, in The Observer, the bishops express concerns about plans to limit the amount any household can claim in benefits to £500 a week.

Their intervention has received the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York.

The government says the reforms are designed to reduce a culture of benefit dependency.

The bishops say the cap could be "profoundly unjust" to children in the poorest families and they have a "moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice".

They are backing a series of amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill - due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday - which have been tabled by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Rt Rev John Packer.

'Falling into poverty'

He told the BBC: "It is unusual for a very considerable number of bishops to come together and to sign a letter, and we do consider we have a very particular concern for children and to prevent children from falling into poverty.

"The bill as it stands looks to us as though it could cause very considerable damage to children - particularly those in larger families, it being no fault of the children that they're in larger families."

The government says the changes, due to come into effect in 2013, will save £7bn in welfare spending and will encourage people currently on benefits to go out and find a job.

Start Quote

It simply isn't fair that households on out-of-work benefits can receive a greater income from the state than the average working household gets in wages”

End Quote Department for Work and Pensions

But the Children's Society, which supported the bishops' letter, has warned the cap could make more than 80,000 children homeless.

It has proposed the bill should be amended to remove child benefit from the calculations for household income.

The signatories are from the dioceses of Bath and Wells; Blackburn; Bristol; Chichester; Derby; Exeter; Gloucester; Guildford; Leicester; Lichfield; London; Manchester; Norwich; Oxford; Ripon and Leeds; St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; and Wakefield.

There are a total of 108 bishops and 43 dioceses in England.

For Labour, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said it supported efforts to get people back to work and believed welfare should not be open-ended.

But he said the government's approach was flawed and suggested Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had warned it could lead to 40,000 people having to leave their homes.

"The bishops have got a point," he told Sky News. "I don't think the government have designed this at all well. Let's not do this in a way which hurts the poorest by throwing them out of their homes."

London rent

Earlier this month, church leaders in Northern Ireland warned that the reforms would push vulnerable people into "precarious levels of poverty".

It is estimated the cap, which would apply to the combined income from benefits such as jobseekers' allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, could result in about 50,000 families being about £93 a week worse off.

London is expected to be one of the worst affected areas, because of the high cost of renting in the capital.

Earlier this week, a study on behalf of London Councils said about 133,000 households in London would be unable to afford their rent if the proposed changes went ahead.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the proposed cap would be the equivalent of an annual salary of £35,000 a year before tax.

"It simply isn't fair that households on out-of-work benefits can receive a greater income from the state than the average working household gets in wages," he said.

"Many working-age families with adults in work cannot afford to live in central London, for example, and it is not right for the taxpayer to subsidise households on out-of-work benefits who do."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
    "Many working-age families with adults in work cannot afford to live in central London, and it is not right for the taxpayer to subsidise households on out-of-work benefits who do (live in central London)".

    So the D.W.P. are saying, in effect, that many households on out-of-work benefits should be forcibly re-housed. This is outrageous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Comment 92, Greg1966. Please let me know where I can buy a house for £30k then rent it out for £600 a month, I'll be over there today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Funny how many people totally ignore the fact that bringing up a child, let along bringing up multiple children, is in itself very hard work indeed. But hey, it's easier to just dish out propaganda stereotypes of 'lazy benefit scroungers' than actually think critically about what they mean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    What the heck has it got to do with the church? If people can't live on £500 per week then there is something wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Simple solution. Pay benefits as wages, wherever possible.E.G £67 job seekers paid as £6.08 min wage = 11 hours a week for community work. There are lots of things in society that need doing (subject to CRB, etc) - help an older person get out of the house, clean up the local scrubland, gritting the pavement in the winter, etc. This is better for the benefit claimant and costs nothing

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    @71. Stunned_Silence
    The last thing this country or the world needs is more children. We should be making efforts to reduce the population by having fewer children until our population reaches a sustainable number. Think about it if there were same 5M fewer people in this country we would probably reach as near full employment as is possible. What not to like about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The church is wrong to try and surf the crest of popular political fads!

    They should get back to preaching Virtues over Vices, God knows this country needs it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    If I was being paid £500 per week to sit on my ass doing nothing for my whole life, squeezing out kids to top up the hand outs, staying up all hours of the night disturbing my neighbours who get up early to work everyday then I think I would be laughing rather than worrying right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    the benefits system always goes back to the same problem. the sense of entitlement. benefits are meant as a deal, you look for work the government supports you while you do but this idea cropping up more and more that its their 'right' to live off benefits need to change. you have no right to live off hard-working people's money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    £500 a week = £26000 a year tax free. The plans will only affect those "earning" more than this. How many working people out there, especially those who in an anti-tory knee-jerk reaction are posting against this proposal, have a monthly salary slip of more than £2,111.67 after all deductions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    "A family near me have 8 kids so he has to give up work to become a carer for her and the children then she gets pregnant,baby no 9 is due shortly.They boast they are better off on benefits. And the older kids are unruly and already in trouble.Benefits breed bothersome kids.."

    Go for even better alliteration, "Benefits Breed Bothersome Brats"

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    This is the rich and priveleged making vacuous comments. The Church is sadly irrelevant in all this - weak and sidelined. £500 maximum a week for benefits is a lot. There has to be a limit on benefits and a limit on how long you can keep claiming unless there are clear reasons. Why are Polish guys washing our cars, serving us coffee and cleaning our windows? It called 'us being lazy'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Perhaps the church should use some of its wealth made in the city to back the words they use . There are alot of peole in this country who have been brought up for generations by the state (never worked but always in the pub) perhaps the church could comment on that .

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Being an atheist, what a Bishop or even bunch of Bishops exhort, makes no difference to me. I merely find it a one sided argument - it's all very well to urge the government not to make cuts or place financial limits on the financial black hole that is the welfare system but please can they explain where we should find the money to stop the entire country going to ruin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Rent is the largest portion of these payments. The banking system has pushed house prices to double what they would be if we did not allow banks to decide how money should be allocated. Rents have followed a similar pattern.

    Should a hard working banker get 100 times more than a hard working bin man?

    We should not allow this unfair capitalist system to decide who gets what- children or anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    "The government says the changes, due to come into effect in 2013, will save £7bn in welfare spending and will encourage people currently on benefits to go out and find a job." WHERE ARE THE JOBS? and more importantly where the SAVED MONEY WILL BE GOING?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I'm sure there are plenty of undeserving people 'working the system' so isn't it these people who should be stripped of benefits? In that way maybe those who desperately need help can receive MORE.

    It's time for the handwringing liberals to recognise this and get rid of the scroungers, and do more to help the genuine claimants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Whilst i do normally agree with anything that gets people on benefits contributing. Instituting a hard cap, that takes no account of where you live is frankly insane. I am the only earner in a 3 person family, and because we are in a relatively expensive area, we are living hand to mouth, even though i earn circa £35kpa. Were we in a cheap area, we'd be laughing, but we aren't...

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    As a retired person, I would welcome regular income of £500 per week.
    Yesterday on BBC I heard that workers from the EU were being offered jobs before British unemployed teenagers are even considered.
    So our own kids are denied jobs, and now they will also be denied benefits so obviously available to Non British immigrants!
    Must be true it was on BBC!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Even with housing benefit a family on low wages cannot meet the cost of rent, heating,food and clothing many months of the year. Somebody has to speak out for all these families who would love not to be benefit dependent.And who better than Bishops who sit in the Lords and speak in the name of him who cured the sick and gave sight to the blind.


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