Bishop: Ben­e­fit cap ‘will con­demn chil­dren to poverty’

The Church of England - - NEWS -

THE BISHOP of Leicester has launched a sting­ing at­tack on the Government’s plans to cap ben­e­fit in­creases at one per cent a year.

Bishop Tim Stevens said it was an “ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tempt to al­ter the very na­ture of the wel­fare state” and would con­demn “count­less” chil­dren to poverty.

He said one of the main ar­gu­ments to jus­tify the move - that out-of-work fam­i­lies should not see ben­e­fits go up by more than wages - was “in­ac­cu­rate and un­help­ful”.

Bishop Stevens, one of a se­ries of bish­ops to at­tack Government wel­fare plans in the House of Lords, said the claim was in­ac­cu­rate be­cause 60 per cent of the im­pact of the Bill would fall on work­ing fam­i­lies in re­ceipt of pay­ments such as work­ing fam­i­lies’ tax credit and child ben­e­fit.

“It is also un­help­ful to set up a false dis­tinc­tion be­tween in-work ‘strivers’ and outof-work ‘shirk­ers’,” he added. “All of us who are ac­tu­ally in touch with the ef­fects of this Bill in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties know that many are los­ing their jobs through no fault of their own.

“Con­trary to min­is­te­rial rhetoric, the vast ma­jor­ity of un­em­ployed peo­ple want to work: 70 per cent of un­em­ployed peo­ple find work again within a year and only a tiny mi­nor­ity of work­less house­holds con­tain two gen­er­a­tions who have never worked. As if it is not enough to lose your job, some of th­ese peo­ple are now be­ing vil­i­fied and im­pov­er­ished.”

He added: “The In­sti­tute for Fis­cal Stud­ies es­ti­mates that the com­bined ef­fect of all the tax and ben­e­fit changes in­tro­duced be­tween 2010 and April 2015 is to re­duce the in­comes of the poor­est fifth of fam­i­lies with chil­dren by about seven per cent. The in­evitable im­pact of this pol­icy will be a fur­ther in­crease in child poverty.”

Bishop Stevens warned of the dan­gers of break­ing the his­toric link be­tween ben­e­fits and in­fla­tion and the long-term threat to the wel­fare state.

“If we wind the clock for­ward, what kind of safety net will be left in 10 or 20 years’ time?” he asked.

“I fear that we are head­ing in the di­rec­tion of a United States-style wel­fare sys­tem, where health­care pro­vi­sion and pen­sions are large and pro­tected but work­ing-age pro­vi­sion is less gen­er­ous and more stig­ma­tised, barely pro­vid­ing enough for peo­ple to live on with­out re­ly­ing on char­i­ta­ble hand­outs, where vis­its to the food bank are not an emer­gency re­sponse to an eco­nomic cri­sis but an in­te­gral part of the wel­fare state. Is this really the kind of so­ci­ety that we want to live in?”

In the same de­bate - the sec­ond read­ing of the Ben­e­fits Up­rat­ing Bill - the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds at­tacked the Government for us­ing “deroga­tory or dis­mis­sive lan­guage” when they re­ferred to peo­ple who re­ceive wel­fare ben­e­fits.

“The ma­jor­ity of those who re­ceive ben­e­fits are in work and the ma­jor­ity of those out of work would love to work if they could find jobs,” he said.

“The stig­ma­ti­sa­tion of those who re­ceive ben­e­fits is both se­ri­ous and dan­ger­ous. In 2011, there was an in­crease of 30 per cent in at­tacks on dis­abled peo­ple, fu­elled by sto­ries of how peo­ple were falsely claim­ing dis­abil­ity al­lowances.”

In a de­bate on reg­u­la­tions to in­tro­duce uni­ver­sal credit, which sim­pli­fies the cur- rent com­plex ben­e­fits sys­tem, the Bishop of Worces­ter, John Inge, warned of the ef­fect on dis­abled peo­ple.

He said: “As I un­der­stand it, the reg­u­la­tions laid be­fore us to­day pro­pose to re­duce the level of fi­nan­cial sup­port to most dis­abled chil­dren from £57 a week un­der the cur­rent sys­tem to just £28 a week, or £124 a month - a re­duc­tion of nearly £30 a week.

“Ac­cord­ing to the Government’s own es­ti­mates, 100,000 dis­abled chil­dren will be af­fected. Only the most se­verely dis­abled chil­dren who are on high-rate care com­po­nents of the dis­abil­ity liv­ing al­lowance or reg­is­tered blind will be un­af­fected.

“Many par­ents of dis­abled chil­dren al­ready strug­gle to find the money to cover the ex­tra costs of hav­ing a dis­abled child, such as spe­cial­ist adap­ta­tions to their home, ac­cess to dis­abil­ity-friendly ser­vices and higher travel and child­care ex­penses. Al­ready, 28 per cent of house­holds with a dis­abled child are liv­ing in poverty, and this rises to around 50 per cent if the ad­di­tional costs as­so­ci­ated with be­ing dis­abled are taken into ac­count.”

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