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 160.

    The children aren't the issue,the issue is that once you're on £500 a week in benefits, you can't get off it unless two ppl both suddenly get good jobs. They are trapped living somewhere in a way they cannot sustain. This is what must stop because once you've had it, losing it is painful & tax payers are sick of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    TheTories aim, supported by the right wing media,is to turn the poorer classes against each other, divide and conquer. And it's working, judging by the venom spouted on these pages.The main reason so many jobs are being done by economic migrants is simple; they'll work for peanuts. We must all stand up for ourselves or risk a return to Dickensian days. In this current market no one's job is safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    The bishops, like everyone else, have the right to a point of view. But considering they represent about 1 per cent of the population they are outdated and umportant in today's world. The Church of England would be more effective if it used its vast resources for the poor instead of collecting from the poor and keeping riches in gold plate, usually locked up in a vault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    and when the cuts to the crown???!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    The main problem is not that benefits are too high, its that jobs are not plentiful enough, benefits are handed out more easily than jobs and rents are way too high especially in London. Plus So many companys only want "temporary" contracts which mean fluctuating hours and easily dismissable staff. Thats no good to someone who has a family to look after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    This makes me so sad, as a 75 year old my memoreies naturaly go back to my younger days when we didn't have much money and what we did have we had to work for, we even had to pay to visit the doctor and of course there were not the ammount of people living in the UK ( I wonder why? ) but in general we were all so much happier than the majority of people are today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I have close relatives who've been on benefit for over ten years now, they and their children want for nothing. The have a new car at the door, the most expensive Sky HD package, enjoy foreign holidays and their children have the latest Blackberry phones. They are the best off members of my family. The scandal is that working people have to pay for this excess. The £500 limit is £200 too high!

  • Comment number 153.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    A large part of any income is paid in rent; earned from a job or taken as a handout. Blaming landlords is a red herring.
    The problem is that we allow people who cannot afford them to have children. But feminists see that as a "right."
    So why not TV and phones, fags, football season tickets and beer as a right?
    Zero child benefit, replaced by extra income tax allowances for couples with children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I personally think we should cut massive amounts of benefits and give this money to local businesses on condition that they employ x number of these people, forgetting minimum wage, to do whatever job the business can use them for. that way businesses grow, people learn skills that actually make them employable in the future and the welfare budget is massively reduced. the economy grows as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    The benefits are there for a good reason, to feed and clothe families in genuine poverty, but benefits takers should not be made better off than someone who pays taxes back into the benefits pot.

    Nor should they delude themselves that benefits are 'wages', and are primarily for fags and booze, with the left-overs to spend on food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Perhaps the CoE would like to pay the additional income of those needing more than £500 per week. My partner and I [ both pensioners ] get by on less, without any benefits AND we pay taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    If the church is concerned about the welfare of children in poor families, it should ask the government to pay benefits not in cash but in vouchers for food, childrens clothes and school equipment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Why are bishops mouthing off about management of the economy? It's none of the Church's business. Why don't we hear from them about upholding Christian values in our way of life and challenging the growing anti-Christian rhetoric in politics and society? Isn't that what they're there to do? Interfering in politics is only going to encourage the view that the Church is irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Before anyone in the Church of England begins lecturing on the subject of finance, welfare or any other matter relating ot money, perhaps they would open up their accounting practices to public scrutiny and admit to just how wealthy the Church actually is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Oh dear, the C of E are at it again. Having missed a trick to preach to all those outside St. Paul's, probably the best and most peaceful way to clear the tents through boredom of the listeners, they turn to their high "moral" ground with the thought that words speak louder than actions. They always get it wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    115. peter_t_clarke
    we wouldn't reach full employment with 5m less people. If that were true, all countries with 5m less people than us would have full employment. Fewer people means fewer consumers and fewer jobs created.

    What's happened to our national pride, why do we attack our own young in order to make a multinational business elite richer? This makes me really really angry.

  • Comment number 143.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    It already is limited to 200 for an unemployed couple - 100 JSA total for two people, plus a max housing benefit of 400 per month (55% of the national average rent). It is hard to move when on benefits - most landlords demand a hefty deposit and expect tenants to be in employment, so people can get stuck, paying 600+ rent on 800 per month, and possibly debt repayments with no extra support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Cut all benefits and tell anyone wanting handouts to go somewhere else in the EU to get them. They won't though because our system will still be 10 tens as overly generous as anywhere else in Europe and the world.


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