Jonathan Clark, the Bishop of Croydon, is one of more than 40 senior churchmen, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, to condemn the government’s plan for a 1 per cent annual increase in welfare benefits in each of the next three years, regardless of inflation, for being targeted at the poorest in society.
The Conservative-led government’s Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill will be debated in the House of Lords next week.
With the Church of England known as the Tory party at prayer, the prelates’ public opposition suggests another damaging division for David Cameron to cope with.
In the letter to the Sunday Telegraph published today, the 43 bishops say that the Bill’s proposals “will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty”.
The bishops highlight research conducted by the Children’s Society which shows how the benefits changes will hit hard-working families, including nurses and soldiers: “The Children’s Society calculates that a single parent with two children, working on an average wage as a nurse would lose £424 a year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a year by 2015.”
The letter carries the additional weight of comments from Justin Welby, who is to be enthroned as the Archbishop of Canterbury on March 21, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.
“As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish,” Welby said.
“It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing. The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation.
“These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the government,” Welby said.
In the letter signed by the Bishop of Croydon, the bishops state firmly, “the change will hit the poorest the hardest”.
According to the bishops’ figures, “… about 60 per cent of the savings from the uprating cap will come from the poorest third of households. Only 3 per cent will come from the wealthiest third.” The letter says that is “unacceptable” for the government to transfer the burden of inflation from the Treasury to children and families.
“Children and families are already being hit hard by cuts to support, including those to tax credits, maternity benefits, and help with housing costs. They cannot afford this further hardship penalty,” the bishops write.
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