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 140.

    To complain about this proposed ceiling of benefits for people who won't work,choose to have more children than they can possibly afford,is an insult to every pensioner in the land.
    Let them live on the yearly income of the average pensioner,THEN they would have something to moan about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    The bishops are sadly out of touch with the views of the general public as a recent poll suggesting that most people wanted those claiming housing benefit in expensive areas to be moved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The church has no place to speak out, it shouldn't even have clergymen in the house of lords. Separation of church and state! Adding to this on damage to children, I would be more worried about there preaching, and growing number of primary schools, than that of the welfare state reforms. Help them if it is your 'moral obligation', don't ask others, not everyone's moral compass points true north.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    We still give something like 8 billion to overseas countries, whilst our own people fall into poverty.

    We need to restore true democracy in this country

    Then, get out of EU, stop giving away taxpayers money to other countries and kick bogus asylum seekers and illegal out of the country.

    Problem solved.


  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Church leaders should be condemning the parents who produce offspring when they know full well that they are unable to support them for the following 18 years. It is a parents responsibility to provide for their children not taxpayers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    As a economy this is a combined problem leaded by first in Line "IMMIGRATION". Government please note until there is a point based system in place no doubt how tuff you set. People will and always keep arriving to this country and stay legitimately & Ilegitimately. Because of mass unwanted immigration, there is a shortfall of houses and eventually money draining out of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    limit it to £500 per week?

    Has anyone and idea how much you have to earn to £500 a week, that £2000 a month.

    You would have to earn around £37000 per year before tax and national insurance.

    So no wonder some people will ry to stay on benefits when there is NO way they could earn that amount.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    121. nieuw divil

    The current system is an abomination and must be scrapped now! End ALL benefits and pass the trillions of savings back to the working man in the form of tax cuts. Then the economy will flourish!

    So will crime: people have to have somewhere to live and something to eat: didn't you know that? Or is it just that your extreme neo-Fascist views blot out reality?

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    The church complains that benefits are to be capped at £26K pa,when many hard working,diligent familys don't earn anywhere near this amount.
    The benefit system in this country is a farce that encourages the lazy and feckless to live and breed beyond their natural capacity.
    Cos it's their uman right innit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Theres a lot of people out there that get far less than the £500 a week for working hard, can't get any benefits and still manager to get by...they do this by living in the area's they can afford and cutting back on things they can do why can't benefit seekers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Bishops are often thought as 'unworldly'. Obviously the other world they live in, is awash with money.

    They complain about limiting weekly benefits to £500 per family. And we the public are expected to support them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    @58 student1

    A no-brainer?

    Who forced these wretches to have children? Their choice.

    Paying people to be sterilised would be cheaper than supporting their feckless ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The welfare system does require some reform if only to eliminate the quite widespread abuse of the system. There will always be those that wish to profit from their nefarious advantage seeking actions. But for those genuine cases.... Hands off government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    £500; the bishops are mad. A cap at £300 would make more sense, talk about being out of touch.

    Perhaps these people should be cleaning the church , taking graffiti off the buildings etc.

    And now they want to hire more people to check if the long term sick are swinging the lead, the benefit system should be self moderating not heavily policed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    FACT - in 2008 the number of pensionable people in the UK overtook the number of under 16s.
    FACT - the vast majority of children from poor families (including those on benefits) will contribute their income through tax to help pay for pensions.
    FACT - many other countries are encouraging families to have more children for this very reason. It actually confers an advantage to emigration.

  • Comment number 125.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I'm seriously disabled. I get enough although nowhere near £500, more like half! What the government neglects to tell you is that you are then obligated to contribute to your care. A full third of my benefits is paid straight back to social services!
    Although I do not complain about this, I DO complain about media tactics such as these which misrepresent the real situation and exaggerate income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    It sounds like there needs to be a reform of the minimum wage and also a reform on house ownership. It is possible to own more than one house and rent the houses out in any condition and seek the highest rental price on a free market. That is in the interests of the few, not the many. A regulated system, with caps on rent and tax penalties would help. Look abroad for many, many examples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Reading these comments, I'm puzzled how a socialist government ever got elected.
    As to those defendants that say that most of this money is going to landlords they've forgotten to include breweries, travel companies, petrol companies, mobile phone companies etc, at the end of the week most of the £500 gets back into the economy one way or another, so why not make it £1k or more ? Duh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    The current system is an abomination and must be scrapped now! End ALL benefits and pass the trillions of savings back to the working man in the form of tax cuts. Then the economy will flourish!

    And as for these vicars, they ought to remember that they're only there to enhance the character of weddings, christenings and funerals. So SHUT UP!


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