Ex-Archbishop Carey attacks bishops over benefit cap

Lord Carey Lord Carey said the "gargantuan" welfare system was "stoking social division"

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Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has criticised Church of England bishops for opposing the government's £26,000-a-year cap on benefits.

Writing in the Daily Mail, he says the scale of the UK's debt is the "greatest moral scandal" facing the country.

He says the welfare system is "fuelling vices and impoverishing us all', and accuses the bishops of ignoring popular opinion by opposing the cap.

The government has insisted it will press ahead with the policy.

It wants to cap benefits at £500 a week for working-age families - equivalent to the average wage of £26,000 earned by working households - and £350 a week for single adults without children.

'Mortgaging the future'

But five bishops, led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, arguing that the cap discriminated against families with several children.

They called for child benefit to be excluded from it - and were backed by Labour, crossbench and some Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords on Monday, meaning the amendment was carried by 252 votes to 237.

Start Quote

Bishop of Ripon

The bishops haven't overstepped any mark”

End Quote Elizabeth Hunter Theos think-tank

But writing in the Daily Mail, Lord Carey - who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002 - said the bishops "cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground".

"Considering that the system they are defending can mean some families are be able to claim a total £50,000 a year in welfare benefits, the bishops must have known that popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers," he wrote.

"The sheer scale of our public debt - which hit £1 trillion yesterday - is the greatest moral scandal facing Britain today. If we can't get the deficit under control and begin paying back this debt, we will be mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren."

Lord Carey praised the efforts of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - whom he called a "committed Christian" - to overhaul a benefits system which, at its worst, "rewards fecklessness and irresponsibility".

He argued the cost of benefits was "increasingly stoking social division" among the "squeezed middle, who feel resentment at the 'handouts' given to the long-term unemployed".

And he said the welfare system, originally designed to tackle "want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness", had become an "industry of gargantuan proportions which is fuelling those very vices and impoverishing us all".

'Sensible way'

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said ministers would seek to overturn the Lords defeat when the welfare bill returns to the Commons.

He said the "vast majority" of people supported the cap because it was "fair to say you can't receive more in benefits than if you were to earn £35,000 before tax".

Welfare Reform Bill

  • Has completed its Commons stages and is now in the Report (penultimate) stage in the Lords
  • Ministers have already said they they will overturn Lords defeats in Commons
  • Unless and until agreement on differences is reached the bill is likely to "ping-pong" between the Lords and Commons

But he sought to reassure those worried about "transitional arrangements" - including his party's former leader Lord Ashdown - that the cap would be would be implemented "in a sensible way".

Labour backed the bishops' amendment after its own - to exclude people at risk of homelessness from the cap - failed to get enough support.

However, the party says it is not opposed to the idea of a cap in principle, and wants to see it introduced in the right way.

Monday's vote was the latest in a series of on the government's flagship Welfare Reform Bill - peers have also voted down changes to Employment Support Allowance. The government has made some concessions but says it intends to overturn the defeats in the Commons.

The government says 67,000 households, more than half of which are in London, can expect to lose £83 a week when it is brought in.

The legislation affects England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland has its own social security legislation, but it is expected that what is approved at Westminster would be introduced there too.

How two families' weekly welfare benefits compare

Source: Benefits totals provided by DWP; BBC calculations based on figures from Direct Gov, HMRC

Family size

Family of five Family of 12

No. families affected by policy



Housing benefit (based on rent in Barnet, N London)



Child benefit



Child tax credit



Other benefits (ESA/JSA)



Weekly total




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  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    Simple answer, pay the people who do work a decent wage in the first place. Wages and the cost of living has depressed the economy so much that it makes unemployment seem attractive. "Come work for me, I'll pay you a little bit more than the dole while avoiding paying tax by taking the profit in dividend" There's the real moral scandal

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Given the UK's current economic performance (as shown by the Q4 GDP growth) and prospects, I suspect that there will be a great many people acquiring first hand experience of the benefits system over the next twelve months and beyond. Should we castigate these newly-unemployed as benefit scroungers and condemn any that have been so imprudent and thoughtless as to have had children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    Families that claim £26k is not enough shouldn’t receive any. Benefits should only for essentials not for luxuries. I have seen lot of people on benefits with designer brands which I can’t afford. People should learn to adjust their expenses to suite income. Compassion vs being realistic should not be confused. Say should be for people who pay for the system not for who milk the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    Where does this figure of £26,000 per year come from for those on Benefits? Does £26,000 include total payouts with enhancements of basic Benefit or deposable income after essential utility bills have been paid e.g. rent, fuel and travel?
    Those on base line Benefit can barely afford good food and go anywhere e.g. on a bus to town for a 'coffee' with friends. If different, they are crooking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Opinion seems split between life on benefits being a ball, & being dreadful. I don't know the truth, but suspect somewhere in the middle and is largely what a person makes it. It is clear to me that the welfare state as it currently exists doesn't work, that it's complicated and immensely expensive to run. The government should just provide work at minimum wage for anyone who wants it, full stop.


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