Monday, 23 January 2012

Government defeated in Lords by a bishop's amendment

Updated again Thursday morning

The Press Association reports:

The Government has suffered a defeat over its welfare reform proposals as peers supported a move to exempt child benefit from the £26,000 benefits cap.

Peers voted by 252 to 237, majority 15, in favour of an amendment introduced by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, which received Labour backing.

He said: “It cannot be right for the cap to be the same for a childless couple as for a couple with children. Child benefit is the most appropriate way to right this unfairness.”
He argued that, in effect, the cap denied child benefit payments to people whose other benefits had reached £500 a week.

“This cap is not simply targeted at wealthy families living in large houses,” he said. “It will damage those who have to pay high rents because often that rent has increased substantially in the course of their occupancy of that house.”

The defeat was the fifth the Government has received on the Bill, including three on one day earlier this month…

Or, as Channel 4 News reported:

An amendment tabled by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, calling for child benefit to be excluded from the cap, was passed by 252 votes to 237, a majority of 15.

A Labour amendment to exempt families threatened by homelessness from the cap was rejected by 250 votes to 222, a majority of 28. But 17 Liberal Democrats, coalition partners with the Conservatives, supported it.

The Lords was debating the government’s plans to ensure that a workless household cannot claim more than £26,000 a year in benefits - the average income after tax of a working family. The cap is equivalent to £500 a week for people with children.

Labour backed Bishop Packer’s amendment, despite being in favour of a cap in principle.

Bishop Packer said the cap “failed to differentiate between households with children and those without”, adding: “This cap is not simply targeted at wealthy families living in large houses. It will damage those who have to pay high rents because often that rent has increased substantially in the course of their occupancy of that house.”

The record of the debate on this amendment starts here.

The voting record on this amendment can be found here.

Five bishops voted in favour of the amendment: Chichester, Ripon & Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Manchester.

On an earlier amendment: Ripon and Leeds; Chichester

On this amendment: Ripon and Leeds; Chichester

Andrew Brown wrote at Cif Belief that This welfare bill has united bishops like never before.

The Children’s Society issued this Statement in response to the Government’s defeat in the House of Lords with regard to the proposed benefit cap set out in Welfare Reform Bill:

“The Lords have stood up to the Government and sent a clear message in support of children up and down the country.

“The Children’s Society is delighted that the Lords have seen sense today and excluded child benefit when calculating the benefit cap. Children should not be held responsible and penalised for the employment circumstances of their parents.

“Child benefit is a non-means tested benefit paid to working and non-working families. It’s a benefit all households with children are entitled to and is there to help with the cost of having children.

“If the intention of the benefit cap is to promote fairness, it is totally unfair that a small family with a household income of £80,000 a year receive it, yet a large family with a benefit income of £26,000 are excluded.

“The Government must not ignore the fact that the Lords have spoken out to defend the plight of some of the country’s most disadvantaged children”.

The Guardian has a review of media reactions to all this here.

The BBC has an interesting analysis: What is the role of bishops in UK politics?

George Carey My fellow bishops are wrong. Fuelling the culture of welfare dependency is immoral.

The Bishop of Leicester writes in the Telegraph ‘Lord Carey was wrong to defend government’s welfare reforms’.

The Independent has a leading article: Bishops and benefits don’t mix.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 23 January 2012 at 7:34pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

A very encouraging solidarity among the Bishops in the House of Lords - on the subject of child benefits. let's hope that their awareness of human rights translates into acceptance of women, with equal jurisdictional rights to themselves, into the episcopate, in the forthcoming meeting.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 12:29am GMT

The Bishops do themselves and, by extension, the CofE, no favours. They forget that a £26,000pa benefit claimant is getting more than many parish clergy - does this mean pay rises all round for those who don't wear the purple? They ignore the fact that many people - Christians and churchgoers among them - support the idea of a benefit cap because of the widespread "milking of the system. And they seem happy that the dependency culture of the current benefit system is totally at odds with the founding ethos of a safety net for those in need whilst TEMPORARILY out of work. They should get out of their palaces a little more.

Posted by: J Gibbs on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 9:48am GMT

J Gibbs,
the issue here is child poverty. And parish clergy get the same child benefit as everyone else (plus free housing, by the way).
If you take child benefit into the benefits cap then larger families suffer disproportionately. And you end up with this strange situation whereby a single mother with 2 children and a single father with 2 children have a better financial standard than if they married and created a stable family with 4 children.
How can that make sense at any level?
You could argue that people shouldn't have children they can't afford but not everyone knows they will end up as a single parent and, in any case, it's not fair to penalise the children.

Much more than a supposedly widespread milking of the system I see a system riddled with inconsistencies that lavishes money on some and leaves others in dire straights.
A proper reform would be helpful here, but in the meantime, let's at least make sure that we don't wage our ideological battles over social security on the back of children.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 11:42am GMT

Come now, J Gibbs, you know as well as I do that the CofE parish clergy receive far more than £28k. Note that I wrote "receive" rather than "are paid". They are provided with housing and a contribution to a pension scheme and other benefits which make the overall package worth some £45k - £50k per year. The benefits which HMG seeks to cap have to meet rent, Council Tax and water charges none of which have to come from a CofE parish priest's stipend.

The real culprits are the private sector landlords who charge rents that reasonable people consider to be so high as to almost be extortionate.

The point at issue in the Bishops' amendment is that Child Benefit is a non-means-tested benefit and is paid to all families with children regardless of the family income. If HMG is serious about reducing the cost of the benefit system, it should be looking to withdraw the Child Benefit from those families who don't *need* it because they have good after-tax incomes rather than from those who struggle on below average incomes - but then what can one reasonably expect from a government in which is led by the Conservative Party and an Old Etonian PM?

Posted by: RP on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 12:26pm GMT

I think it is worth nailing the falsehood that £26,000 is more than most clergy get. Most clergy get a stipend (< £26,000) plus a house. The reason the govenments proposals will cause such hardship is precisely because much of the £26,000 must go on the rent.
The critics of the Bishops need to think more!

Posted by: RevPeterM on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 1:38pm GMT

I have no means of verifying this but it is often said that the reason Child Benefit is a universal benefit is that universal benefits are cheaper to administer than means tested benefits. Also, not everyone eligible applies for means tested benefits, whereas the system for paying child benefit is so easy that those who need it most don't slip through the net.
If this is true, then it makes sense to pay it to everyone.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:47pm GMT

I am entirely opposed to the bishops on this. To be left with £26.000 after tax one would need to earn at least £35,000.There are many working families with children who earn much less than that. They move to other areas or downsize their houses and their chidren share bedrooms.They would not dream of moaning to the Government about this but they do resent paying taxes to keep those who do. My daughter has brought up 3 children in a two bedromed house since her husband left her 15 years ago. He lives abroad and has never contributed any money and she had to downsize. Her girls are now 21,19 and 16. Two are at university- the eldest a fourth year medic- and work in the vacations and even term time to pay for their maintenance. The youngest is in the Lower Sixth and is very bright.My daughter last year got a job which paid her £25,000 for the first time instead of the £18,000 to which she had risen. As a result her middle daughter loses £500 of her grant next year. Near to her lives a woman in similar circumstances who has never worked more than half time. She receives benefits to raise her to £26,000 tax free and her children have all the aid they need. My daughter says it is not fair but at least she has her pride and self respect and does not scrounge from the Government.She is typical of many and Ian Duncan Smith as well as saving money wants to give more people back their self respect.

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 5:25pm GMT

Jean Mayland,
I respect your point of view but I would like to clarify: are you saying that your daughter rejected her child benefit, that she never applied for any single family tax credits, housing support or anything else she was entitled to and that she genuinely lived on her income alone?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 7:11pm GMT

Is there an inconsistency here? Many of those who would see the Bishops removed from the upper chamber (as I would) are also praising their intervention in a civil matter.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 7:44pm GMT

RP (and Jean later)

Did you know that historically Theology graduates earn less than graduates in other disciplines, mainly because so many have become clergy?

When I was an accountant I got some of the benefits you mention - not the house - and I reckon I got twice the package I get now when I was working as an accountant fifteen years ago. That's fine for me, but what does it mean for my children?

The house is described in the latest report on pensions as a mixed blessing - I think you may know the one I live in until recently, which was certainly less than a palace. And clergy don't get on the housing ladder before they retire. Some do, and some do well from their housing, but you can't choose your own, which means that you have to live with the school catchments in which you happen to land etc - it isn't all reducible to money.

Jean: Child Benefit has never been means tested, but has been treated as a universal benefit. For that reason it has almost universal take-up and there is no stigma about having it. Middle class families got a flavour of means testing when child tax credits were introduced and didn't like it - I spent three hours trying to get through once, and when I did the person told me I needed another number, which was never answered. MPs can't fill in their expenses forms properly, even with office admin paid for by the state to help, yet they expect some of our most chaotic and least able people to fill in forms which are significantly more complex and to chart the daily changes of their chaotic lives in writing on pain of prosecution.

Whatever a working family earns or so (up to higher rate tax band under proposals) they will get child benefit on top. So taking child benefit into the calculation creates a false comparison - you may think the level is right, but the more children you have, the more benefit you get, and the more you lose out under this new scheme, which would be regressive if implemented. I disagree with you on this - though agreeing on much, as you know.

There are families who work the system - I've met them, and they are more common than some would like to think. But there are also incredibly needy families who can't cope with life getting more complicated, who need someone to make it simple for them, rather than lumping them in with the scroungers. I spent a part of my life dealing with such people every day, and I am ashamed of politicians who place on our most vulnerable families burdens which they (cf expenses) are rather incapable of bearing themselves.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 7:53pm GMT

A few observations:

First, there wasn't that much solidarity. Only five of 25 Lords Spiritual were in the Lords for the vote. (There are normally 26 Lords Spiritual: the Archbishops of Canterbury and York; the Bishops of London, Winchester and Durham; and the next 21 senior diocesans in the Church of England (excepting the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe and the Bishop of Sodor and Man whose jurisdictions are outside of England. Winchester is currently a vacant see.)

Second, agreed there is no small irony that those who are happiest with the bishops' intervention yesterday are likely also most likely opposed to the bishops' presence in the national legislature.

Third, in addition to universal benefits being easier to administer and more likely to reach those who most need it, there is also the political reality that universal benefits are likely to have broader political support and therefore are less likely to be targetted for reduction or elimination.

Fourth, it should be noted that the bishops' amendment did NOT overturn or reject the whole benefits reduction initiative of the coalition government, but only one aspect of it that specifically affected children.

Fifth, I note that the appalling George Carey stuck his obnoxious ore in today with a grandiose attack on his former colleagues. It should be noted that the same Geoge Carey is a life peer as Lord Carey of Clifton, and that the said Lord Carey of Clifton never bothered to turn up to vote the other way. Having abdicated his responsibilities as a member of the Lords, perhaps he should just be quiet.

Finally, there was a bit of a twitter discussion on this side of the pond after an expatriate Brit commented on the 101 CofE bishops in the Lords. This led me to a bit of digging, where I determined that, in addition to the 26 Lords Spiritual (currently only 25), there are five other bishops who are Life Peers. Of these five, one (Lord Habgood) has voluntarily retired from the Lords under its own rules, and another (Eames) is a retired bishop of the Church of Ireland rather than the Church of England. That leaves Lord Carey of Clifton, Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Hope of Thornes. None of these five were present for the vote. That makes (with Winchester filled) a total of 31 bishops in the Lords. Granted I may have missed some, but I doubt I missed 70.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 3:39am GMT

I agree with pretty much everything you say. The problem seems to be that only the people actually living and working close to these families are able to distinguish those who milk the system from whose who are genuinely in need. And so we end up with this idea that everyone is on the take and that only pushing them further into poverty will help them out of it.

Can there be a working mechanism that genuinely separates those who could help themselves more from those who really do need more support?

If we want to avoid harming those who are genuinely struggling that seems to me to be the real question here

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 8:16am GMT

Mrs Mayland's comment appals me. A selective application of the principle of equality then ?

So we are tearing the Church apart over women as bishops, but the poorest in society should be abandoned, based upon a family anecdote.

I was taken aback many years ago, as a young minister, actively supporting the ordination of women in my then diocese, that some of the women were anti-gay and right-wing in other ways. I made (and make) some mental allowance, as these were the bad old days.

Is there not envy involved in some of the resentful responses to the attempt to protect the children of some of the poorest families ? Rather like the elder brother in the parable ?

Why do I hear no such comments here, about the bankers and other wealthy people, who are NOT being required to make big sacrifices - unlike our fellow citizens and fellow-parishioners who happen to be unemployed, poor, disabled, ill, or multiply disadvantaged ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 11:49am GMT

Forcibly taking money from certain people isn't moral and it isn't Christian, regardless whether the money is given to the 'poor', the 'children', or the 'rich'. Christian charity is a personal duty, but government-forced redistribution is immoral.

Posted by: Christian on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 11:56am GMT

Details of clergy pay at all levels is given in the report at

In broad terms the basic package is stipend £22k, housing £10k and pensions say 10% i.e. £35k package to compare with pay in other sectors.

Posted by: David on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 1:17pm GMT

no-one takes anything forcibly.
We live in a society that has rightly decided that some things are a fundamental value and not open to charity that can be removed at whim.
These include, alongside a decent infrastructure things like schooling and healthcare free at the point of use, and a social security system that ensures that as few people as possible end up destitute.

This is just the kind of country most of Europe wants to live in.
And the way to achieve that is to empower the Government to levy taxes from those who can afford them and to use that money to deliver the common good we want for each other.

We usually disagree on what forms part of the things we'd like the State to look after and we disagree about the amounts individual people and companies are supposed to contribute.
But the principle is not really in question.

To leave the basic wellbeing of our fellow citizens to the whim of the charitable feelings of individuals is not acceptable to most.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 4:42pm GMT

My daughter had tax credit when only working part time and family allowance but the total was still well below £25.000 which she has only just reached by her own hard work. I quote her as a example and not an anecdote. My concern is with working people who struggle but stand on their own feet and with family allowance earn less than those who never work. We have lived and worked in poor areas and know the resentment this causes.

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 5:09pm GMT

Someone signing as Christian posted: "Forcibly taking money from certain people isn't moral and it isn't Christian, regardless whether the money is given to the 'poor', the 'children', or the 'rich'. Christian charity is a personal duty, but government-forced redistribution is immoral."

I have seldom seen such claptrap posing as the message of Jesus; that nonsense is straight out of the Church of Ayn Rand, and not Jesus the Christ.

If someone wants to be selfish, and if they want to be amoral when it comes to the the needs of those less fortunate, then do so if you must, but don't try to pretend that it is a Christian imperative to only have personal charity, rather than governmental fairness.

Posted by: Jerry Hannon on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 5:16pm GMT

Jean Mayland,
I completely agree with you and I think Mark's comments were along the same lines.
I don't think I would have such a clear demarcation line between people who work and people who don't work, as if there is any shame in not working if you cannot find work or if you're not well enough to work.

In my own family I have just witnessed a separation of a couple where one works (self employed) and the other doesn't (poor health). One of the contributing factors to the stress in the relationship was that she gets more state support if she's a single mother than if she lives with someone who works but has has a pityful income below the minimum wage.
If this couple had had more support while they were together, the state would have saved itself even higher benefits now, and we might just possibly have had one more stable family.

What we need to find is a way of addressing real need, wherever we find it, without stereotyping particular groups of people.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 9:19pm GMT

Why couldn't George Carey have made his comments about 'fellow bishops' in the House of Lords, of which he is a member, rather than the Daily Mail?

Posted by: peter kettle on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 10:43pm GMT

That's just silly, Christian!

If you benefit by the society, you must pay in. If not, you cannot stay in that society. The more you benefit, the more you must pay back. It is neither unfair, nor immoral, but absolutely just - everybody is part of the society that creates our wealth, even the supposed unworthy. If you don't wish to pay taxes, fine . . . simply go off and be independent, completely self-sustaining.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 4:23am GMT

Why is it that so many Christians have no idea who Ananias and Sapphira were?

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 4:24am GMT

Jean Mayland

Families are only likely to get anything like £26k if they are paying huge rents. At present, both rents and mortgages for even overcrowded properties in much of the country are absurdly expensive.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 9:41am GMT

Erika, tax payments aren't voluntary, they are taken by force.

Jerry, where in the Bible does Jesus say that Christians should seize control of government and use its power to forcibly take from some and give to others?

Posted by: Christian on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 12:26pm GMT

Peter Kettle wrote, "Why couldn't George Carey have made his comments about 'fellow bishops' in the House of Lords, of which he is a member, rather than the Daily Mail?"

Could the answer be that many more people read the daily Mail than read the House of Lords Hansard? It's all about exposure, don't you know, especially for retired archbishops who don't know when to behave as if they have retired.

Posted by: RPNewark on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 1:12pm GMT

RP, "They are provided with housing and a contribution to a pension scheme and other benefits which make the overall package worth some £45k - £50k per year"

Which diocese do you work in?!?!

Posted by: AGPH on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 1:40pm GMT

Might also be that the Mail's fee is higher than the House of Lords per diem, RPNewark.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 2:23pm GMT

MarkBrunson, I would prefer a society where individuals and families interact voluntarily, through gifts, mutual aid, and contracts, ideally in accordance with Christian principles. Theft and other crime should of course be stopped by force if need be, and I could perhaps accept a case for tax that funded 'services' such as roads and police that everybody uses, but government should not be engaged in forcible redistribution of personal income - partly because I don't think that is a moral use of government power, and partly because they always get it wrong! (Why take child benefit from the poor, yet keep giving it to the rich?)

But tell me - where can I go if I want to be independent?

Posted by: Christian on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 2:32pm GMT

nothing in a democracy happens by force, it all happens as a result of the political process.

If you're not prepared to pay tax, are you prepared to stop driving on public roads, to drive without street lights, not to have a police force to protect you, not to have schooling for your children? Not to have an ambulance and fire service? Would you walk your own weekly rubbish to a dump? Would there be a dump if it wasn't operated by and for the community?

This whole "tax is immoral" argument is such absolute nonsense when you think about how many services you take for granted.
The only spending people tend to object to are welfare payments to help the weakest in society.
Pretty shameful, that.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 5:59pm GMT

AGPH wrote, 'RP, "They are provided with housing and a contribution to a pension scheme and other benefits which make the overall package worth some £45k - £50k per year"

Which diocese do you work in?!?!'

Oh dear, write in haste, repent at leisure! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I have now located my diocesan budget papers. For the sake of transparency, I give the figures in full: Stipend £23,355; pension & death-in-service benefits £8,080; average housing costs £7,645; training costs £631; employer's NIC £1,892; other staffing costs £946. These are for 2012 in Southwell & Nottingham diocese and whilst I work quite hard (I think) therein, I receive not a penny from it.

So I suggest that the figure for comparison with the £26,000 proposed benefit cap is, in this diocese at least, £39,080. May we agree on a figure of £39k for the sake of discussion? I really don't want this to degenerate into an argument about stipends when the thread is about a proposed benefit cap.

Posted by: RPNewark on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 9:58pm GMT

Oh my, Christian, you make it plain that you fit perfectly within the Church of Ayn Rand.

If you cannot find, within the totality of Jesus' message, that we should take care of the less fortunate members of society, and if you are looking for a specific passage that says "My followers MUST take the following governmental action", or else you may ignore the totality of the message of Jesus, then dialogue with you is hopeless.

Go your own separate way, friend, and please post to a hyper-libertarian blog, not here.

Posted by: Jerry Hannon on Thursday, 26 January 2012 at 10:01pm GMT

"government-forced redistribution is immoral."

Posted by: Christian on Wednesday, 25 January

I've only just seen this remark. how dreadfully anti-Christian this is. Given the counsel of jesus on the need to share with the poor. Good government, surely, means justice for the poor.
That is a Christian hope for the world.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:02am GMT

Q: "where in the Bible does Jesus say that ... government and use its power to forcibly take from some and give to others?"

A: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"

[And if Jesus said we should pay our taxes even to an UNJUST government, how much more so in a representative democracy!]

I worry about our, um, *Christian* catechetics, when such questions are still asked...

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 27 January 2012 at 8:31pm GMT

Around here, rent in the poorer areas is often tied to what the current gov't benefit checks are. There are limited apartments etc. that are controlled by the gov't and tie rent to a specific percentage of income, but the landlords in the areas around them know what the going price is and every time the benefits go up, so do the rents. When the state didn't raise benefits for a couple years, the rent stayed the same, the moment the benefits increased, so did the rent. If you keep raising the benefits you're just making the landlords/building managers happier. Price/rent controls seem to be the only way to stop it.

Posted by: Chris H. on Saturday, 28 January 2012 at 11:23pm GMT

Then set a cap on rents, not benefits.

See. Try stopping the bad guys, for once.

And, although, as usual, the response seems to have been *lost* - as I said, it isn't my responsibility where you go to be independent, just as - apparently - no one else is your responsibility.

Just go. We're quite happy to be interdependent, like a human society, and people who whinge on about giving in their part are simply a burden on the rest.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 at 4:33am GMT
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