Arch­bishop backs bish­ops’ let­ter on wel­fare cuts

The Church of England - - NEWS -

“BISH­OPS SLAM CAM over UK’s ‘hunger cri­sis’,” was the front page head­line in the Daily Mir­ror last Fri­day. In­side, the news­pa­per printed a let­ter signed by 27 bish­ops, 10 Methodist Chairs of Districts, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the United Re­formed Church and the Quak­ers.

In their let­ter the bish­ops spoke of half a mil­lion people vis­it­ing food banks since Easter and 5,500 people ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal for mal­nu­tri­tion last year.

“One in five moth­ers re­port reg­u­larly skip­ping meals to bet­ter feed their chil­dren and even more fam­i­lies are just one un­ex­pected bill away from wak­ing up with empty cup­boards,” the bish­ops wrote.

The bish­ops crit­i­cised cut­backs in the ben­e­fit sys­tem, pay­ment de­lays and puni­tive sanc­tions.

Af­ter re­fer­ring to Lent as a time of fast­ing and draw­ing closer to those in need and the ef­forts made to sup­port food banks, the bish­ops called on the Govern­ment to do its part by ‘act­ing to in­ves­ti­gate food mar­kets that are fail­ing’, mak­ing sure work pays, and pro­vid­ing a ‘ro­bust last line of de­fence against hunger’.

The let­ter by church lead­ers came in the wake of an in­ter­view by Arch­bishop Vin­cent Ni­chols on the eve of his be­ing made a Car­di­nal in which he crit­i­cised the wel­fare sys­tem. Re­ac­tion to the let­ter was mixed.

Asked about the church lead­ers’ let­ter, Arch­bishop Justin Welby said: “One of the things about the church, both the Catholic and Angli­can and other churches in this coun­try, is that we have people on the ground all over the place.

“And it is from the up­swell of feel­ing that they are reporting, from what they are see­ing in their own com­mu­ni­ties as priests, min­is­ters and pas­tors.”

In re­sponse to a ques­tion at a press con­fer­ence at Lambeth Palace the Arch­bishop said he ‘en­tirely agreed’ with Arch­bishop Ni­chols on the fail­ures in the ben­e­fit sys­tem.

Al­though a num­ber of politi­cians, in­clud­ing the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, Nick Clegg, have ac­cused the Arch­bishop of West­min­ster and the church lead­ers of ex­ag­ger­at­ing, not much dis­sent has been ex­pressed within the church.

The Rev Stephen Heard, for­mer par­lia­men­tary chap­lain to the Bishop of Lon­don, told The Times that he thought the bish­ops in their let­ter ap­peared to ac­cuse the Govern­ment of be­ing ‘al­most malev­o­lent’ and that he did not think this was the case.

He said it was true people on the ground were suf­fer­ing but that food banks were widely used in France where there had been no wel­fare re­forms.

“If you crit­i­cise people or ap­pear to at­tack them pub­licly you are in dan­ger of clos­ing off the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­at­ing or lob­by­ing,” he said.

Sta­tis­tics given by the church lead­ers were widely crit­i­cised in the press. It was pointed out that the fig­ure of half a mil­lion people us­ing food banks ac­tu­ally re­ferred to re­quests and that in­di­vid­u­als made re­peat vis­its.

The NHS said the fig­ure for people suf­fer­ing from mal­nu­tri­tion ac­tu­ally re­ferred to cases not pa­tients and that mal­nu­tri­tion was nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with abuse or ne­glect of chil­dren or a med­i­cal con­di­tion.

Ap­pear­ing on the BBC Ra­dio Four ‘Sun­day’ pro­gramme, the Bishop of Manch­ester, the Rt Rev David Walker, one of the sig­na­to­ries of the let­ter, ar­gued that one in three people seek­ing help from food banks were hit by de­lays in the pay­ment of ben­e­fits and that one in five were hit by sanc­tions.

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