Bishop: Benefit cap ‘will condemn children to poverty’
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.”