Sunday, 20 November 2011

18 CofE bishops criticise government welfare cuts

The following letter has been published in Sunday’s Observer newspaper:

The introduction of a cap on benefits, as suggested in the Welfare Reform Bill, could push some of the most vulnerable children in the country into severe poverty. While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children’s Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

We are urging the government to consider some of the options offered by the Children’s Society before the bill is passed into legislation, such as removing child benefit from household income for the purposes of calculating the level of the cap and calculating the level of the cap based on earnings of families with children, rather than all households. The government could also consider removing certain vulnerable groups from the cap and the introduction of a significant “grace period” of exemption from the cap for households which have recently left employment.

The Bishops of Bath & Wells, Blackburn, Bristol, Chichester, Derby, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, London, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Ripon and Leeds, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Wakefield and Truro

In the accompanying news story, Archbishop Rowan Williams backs revolt against coalition’s welfare cuts it is reported that:

…Eighteen Church of England bishops, backed by Williams and the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, are demanding that ministers rewrite their flagship plan to impose a £500-a-week benefit cap on families.

In an open letter in Observer, they say the Church of England has a “moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice”. Their message is that the cap could be “profoundly unjust” to the poorest children in society, especially those in larger families and those living in expensive major cities.

The high-profile intervention comes after the Church of England became embroiled in an embarrassing row over its attitude to anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. One cleric resigned over plans to evict the protesters forcibly, arguing that the Church should have been more supportive of their cause.

The bishops are calling on ministers to back a series of amendments to the welfare reform bill – due to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow – that have been tabled by the bishop of Leeds and Ripon, John Packer.

A spokesman at Lambeth Palace said Williams was fully behind the bishops’ initiative. “As a president of the Children’s Society the archbishop fully supports the proposed amendments to the welfare reform bill.”

Sentamu also threw his weight behind the changes. “I hope that the government will listen to the concerns being raised and ensure that children, especially the most vulnerable, are protected from cuts to family benefits.”

And the newspaper has published an editorial article in support: The welfare state: the social glue that binds us must be preserved.

Here’s the original analysis by the Children’s Society to the capping proposal: More than 200,000 children to be biggest “losers” of Benefit Cap.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 20 November 2011 at 8:18am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

I was a little disappointed not to see the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham among the signatories, as he is the "children's bishop" on the bench - but there may be a political reason for his not signing.

Posted by: JeremyP on Sunday, 20 November 2011 at 8:50am GMT

OK, so who *didn't* sign this?

1. The two archbishops, it is said there is a convention whereby archbishops don't sign group letters.

2. The Bishops of Durham (now consecrated) and Winchester-designate, who have not yet been introduced to the House of Lords.

3. Chester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Hereford, and Birmingham.

OTOH, one bishop who is not a Lord Spiritual, namely Truro, has signed it. But otherwise the list is of those in the Lords.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 20 November 2011 at 12:35pm GMT

It's more likely that the 5 Lords Spiritual who didn't sign just weren't contactable. Knowing them, I reckon most, if not all, would have done.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Sunday, 20 November 2011 at 2:36pm GMT

'The 5 lords Spiritual'

Granted that the comment comes from one of our less lunatic bishops, the terminology itself is ludicrous. Time for a major rethink and a major junking of much of the traditional silliness asociated with the episcopate in the C of E (as, equally, of course, in the C of R and the Orthodox Church). Start with the proposition: too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Remember also, what far too many people know, there WERE no 'priests' in the first century.

Posted by: john on Sunday, 20 November 2011 at 8:07pm GMT

The benefit cap of £25,000 represents an annual income, before tax, of £35,000.
How many of these bishops receive that sum?
Given their support of higher incomes I look forward to them all pledging to make £35,000 per annum the minimum stipend in their dioceses, thus showing the same level of pastoral concern for the children of their own clergy.

Posted by: toby forward on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 6:51am GMT

"there WERE no 'priests' in the first century"

Have you ever read any Clement of Rome? A first century writer who clearly teaches the importance the Christian priesthood.

Posted by: William on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 7:44am GMT

The issue is housing. In the south east housing costs are at prohibitive levels. The bulk of government support to large families, and families do have to be pretty large to ratchet up welfare payments of over £500 a week, goes on housing. It is not disposable income these families get. If there were social housing to which they could be moved it would be another matter, but this now exists only in a much reduced form. There are no fair-sized cheap houses to which large families can move. Clergy, for both good and ill, do have housing while they work - although the issue of where to live when retired remains a vexed one.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 8:06am GMT

"there WERE no 'priests' in the first century"

Interesting lecture in Chichester Cathedral last month by Professor James Dunn in which he suggested that while Jews lost the rationale for a sacrificing priesthood after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Christians in Rome were busy creating one.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 10:47am GMT

"while Jews lost the rationale for a sacrificing priesthood after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Christians in Rome were busy creating one."

Which points to the fact that the Old Testament Jewish priesthood continued with the Christian priesthood - something that the Apostolic Fathers are quite clear about.

Posted by: William on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 1:44pm GMT


If you look around in NT scholarship, including Jommy Dunn (as opposed to certain 'confessional' church claims), you will find that what I said is only main-stream. It's the second century when things change. Clement may be transitional - but he's late and is he talking about 'priests' in the developed sense? In any case, he is - or should be - 'trumped' by Hebrews.

My general point - that the C of E is terribly top-heavy and some of the 'top' people are ... - surely stands.

Posted by: John on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 3:14pm GMT

The issue in the United States is also HOUSING. It is very expensive to rent an apartment or house and the rents continue to rise. The social issue of HOUSING is probably on the top of the list of most countries around the globe. The Common Good concept will be one of the most talked about and fought over issues in the months ahead in America. It is very important that the Bishops in the CofE have stepped up to the plate on this issue.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 10:40pm GMT

I agree with you entirely about the C of E being top-heavy. However, Clement can hardly be described as transitional. His letter was writen anywhere between 70 and 96 AD (at the latest), quite probably while the Apostle John was still alive. Even if you dispute that Clement had known any of the apostles personally (which is highly unlikely), are you really suggesting that he completely misunderstood the apostolic teaching? There would still have been people living who had known Our Lord Himself. The break with the traditional understanding of the priesthood came centuries later, at the reformation.

Posted by: William on Monday, 21 November 2011 at 10:49pm GMT


I don't agree with you, but I don't want to fight with you. Put it down to an excess of exuberant rhetoric. I remain committed to supporting 'honourable accommodation' within the C of E for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. Of course, some of the latter might think friends such as this one are an impediment rather than a support.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 at 10:17am GMT

To have £500 a week in ones hands after tax one would need a yearly salary of at least £35,000- £37.000.In my experience there are many families with children with someone working who earn much less than that. They struggle on cheerfully but get very angry with bishops who support those who have never worked being given that amount with no effort on their part.

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 at 4:52pm GMT


Some of the families affected have been working but the breadwinner(s) lost their job. It is estimated that about half contain at least one disabled person. In addition to those who will be made homeless by this benefit cap, there will also be people in paid work who will be forced out by housing benefit changes.

The point about the high sums is that they tend mainly to go to landlords, often for quite run-down accommodation. If there were more social housing and/or rent control, fewer people would have to pay the absurd rents which are common in London and some other places.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 at 12:30am GMT
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