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 580.

    All i can say is thank God for the benefits system and 1 day all the people on here that are advocating cutting it or getting rid of it may well have need to dip there toes into it then i wonder if they will be as vocal about getting rid or cutting it.
    Somehow i think they may have a different view on it if they fall on hard times through no fault of there own.

  • Comment number 579.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    They should shut up and butt out. It's outrageous that the cap is so high. If people can't afford to live in central London as they are on benefits then move. If they can't afford kid number 7 then don't have it. Take responsibility instead of expecting the taxpayer to stump up. If the bishops are so upset I suggest they make up the shortfall from the overflowing CofE coffers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    Mr Max
    498. Adrian Swall

    Where and how did they get these estates?"-

    bought and inherited. A bit of research will tell you that...

    I have done my homework. They inherited the estates from ancestors who took them by force and the rest were bought by using money accrued from the pillaged estates. I steal from you and give it to my daughter. Does that mean it's hers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    I advise you to re-read the article above. The outcome will be more homelessness and child poverty. Hardly something to be crowing about in the 21st century.
    who cares ,I don't and why should I . I took responsibility for my life and didn't become a burden on the state ,this and the other reforms are the best thing so far that the government has done.keep it up

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    @nieuw divil

    Capping the benefits at £500 is a nonsense. If the gov't was serious about fixing this countries ills it would scrap benefits altogether (except for ex servicemen) and cut the minimum wage.

    Are you Frankie Boyle?

    No-one else I know can reach this level of lunatic wrongness and sustain it for so long!

    Or am I'm doing Frankie a dis-service?

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    . . . what I find distressing about this and similar stories, is the divisive nature of the stories. It is always rich v poor, bankers v students, wealthy v benefit cheats, labour v coalition and so on . . what we need is to stop this petty infighting and unite in a common cause, which is to dig this country out of the hole it is in. it matters not how we got there, how we get out is the target!

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    So lets get this straight, people who will see their benefits cut to a meagre £26k a year, ie: more than those who WORK for a living make on average, are now "the poorest in our society"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    re 553. Agree about scrapping child benefit but not about affordable housing. My son has been trying to sell his hse just over 1k very suitable for 1st time buyer but many want 3/4 beds large kitchen/dining/sitting room/ etc but at rock bottom price some cannot get banks to lend. There are also over one million empty properties many which could be renovated into very good flats. Realism is needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    Limit benefit to 500 a week?, I receive zero a week and that's all I've ever received. I came from a very very poor background and built my life up with nothing. its called working for a living.
    Cut there benefit to zero and see what happens, do something different for a change, there are to many people in this country sitting on there back sides waiting for handouts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    I think Church of England should concentrate on trying to maintain it's dwindling congregations and leave the politics to people who have been elected to make the decisions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    I wish I was a bishop, living in the closseted world of the church. The benefits system isnt doing it's job because it is a mess, with billions going to the wrong places, and not enough to those in real need, The more complex, the more injustice appears. There should be one basic benefit and other necessary technical support could then be provided on the basis of need not money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    Lets remember however that this is an easy statement for the unelected Bishops to make. At the same time though the NHS is forced to pay £30million per year to fund hospital Chaplains which the Church refuses to fund. The unelected Bishops are simply seeking public support for their non democratic privileged position in the House.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    541. deruyter

    Sometimes people have children and then later on lose their jobs. People claiming benefits are a very diverse group; some scroungers, some desperate for work. The problem with blunt tools is that they affect *all* groups, the genuine as well as the lazy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Could David Cameron live on 67.50 a week? Of course he could - he would claim everything on expenses! Let us not forget the hypocrisy of our ministers - hypocrisy so huge as to be beyond measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    I think the bishops are right. I mean, how much do claimants EXPECT? I'm sickened by reports of claimaints in Mayfair/Kensington flats on £1M pa.

    But I also think the bishops contribute the excess if they believe claimants wanting more than £500pw NEED it, and since they see fit to speak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    By some of the comments made on this article, it is obvious there are far too many people living in the UK and there is no chance of them ever getting a job.
    This is to be expected by automation and automatics to such a degree that humans are redundant.
    Anyone could be out of work tomorrow.
    With 4 Million surplus to present society are you going to be the first volunteer in reducing numbers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.


    This is perhaps the only way we'd encourage some people to choose work rather than rely on state benefits"

    How does that work? 0.5m vacancies, 2.5m unemployed. Why is it that some just can't seem to get a handle on the *real*, fundamental, problem - not enough jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    I am proud of the Bishops in raising this issue on behalf of millions of anglicans and indeed other Christian denominations as well as other faith leaders who would agree with them.
    Yes there are benefit cheats but they are NOTHING compared to bankers, most of the FTSE 100 companies and their directors who avoid i.e. CHEAT us of tax. Chase the tax dodgers first then then the few 'poor who cheat'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    Sign Of The Times
    6 Minutes ago

    It's astonishing that the media, let alone the Government, can get away with articles and stunts such as this as a time that unemployment has risen above 2.5m.
    could that be because they are not massaging the unemployment figures by placing them on incapacity benefit as done in the past,and the new IB Reassessments are forcing the fit back onto JSA


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