General Synod debated Welfare Reform last night. The CofE has isused a detailed press release.
Welfare Reform and the Church – Synod invites Government to re-open Big Society talks
07 July 2013
General Synod has this evening approved a motion calling for a “renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society”, and for “close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and for support for those not in a position to support themselves”.
The motion was moved by Mission and Public Affairs Council chair Mr Philip Fletcher, who authored the report Welfare Reform and the Church (GS 1897).
In his speech, Mr Philip Fletcher said: “We don’t claim… that the whole responsibility for the welfare of our citizens should fall on the shoulders of the state – on the contrary, we would welcome a properly thought-through settlement between the state and the voluntary structures of society, including the Church, as a way of building up communities and promoting neighbourliness. As a Church, we not only seek those objectives all the time, we have responded practically to the hardships which the present austerity measures are imposing on people who have nowhere else to turn – effects which are likely to become more severe as those changes take full effect.”
Emphasising the Church’s involvement in social welfare provision for centuries, and the theological grounds for the Church’s support for a “welfare state”, Welfare Reform and the Church recognises that no structure for ensuring the welfare of all citizens is perfect and that reform is a continuing necessity. It notes that the balance between state and voluntary action has become distorted but comments that, contrary to the apparent direction of policy in the early days of the Coalition, “three years on we have seen very little of The Big Society in policy or practical terms”.
Unpacking the concepts of fairness, generosity and sustainability, the report also looks at public perceptions of welfare, pointing out that “the distinction between ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’ has entrenched harsh attitudes towards those whose benefits are being targeted for cuts”. It agrees that welfare dependency is a problem that “cannot be ignored” but argues that a “society which allows large numbers of its citizens to live in poverty is unlikely to be sustainable”.
The debate included contributions from the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (the audio is available here).
The motion, including amendments from the Bishop of St Albans, the Bishop of Burnley and Mr Gavin Oldham (Oxford), was clearly carried following a divison of Synod (331 for, 1 against, 7 abstentions) and reads:
‘That this Synod, recognising that in times of austerity hard choices must be made between competing priorities, and acknowledging that reform of welfare systems is essential:
– affirm the need for a renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society in pursuit of social solidarity and the common good;
– invite the MPA Council to consider how the Church of England can better contribute to this new settlement, making recommendations to the General Synod by July 2014;
– encourage Her Majesty’s Government to found such reform on the principle of a bias towards the poor;
– call on politicians and pay close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and call for support for those not in a position to support themselves and, in doing so, to consider whether the ring-fenced provision of universal benefits may be becoming the enemy of targeted benefits;
– decry the misleading characterisation of all welfare recipients as ‘scroungers’; and
– commend those across the churches who are working to support those most in need.’
There are several notes to the press release, and these are copied below the fold.
The Archbishop of York’s speech during the debate is online here.
Christian Today has reported the debate: Church condemns ‘scrounger’ rhetoric against poor.
Notes to the press release
1) The report Welfare Reform and the Church and its annexes are available here:
2) In March 2013, the Daily Telegraph carried a letter signed by 43 bishops drawing attention to the stresses and injustices brought about by the Government’s changes to the welfare system and calling for amendments to the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill then passing through Parliament.
3) Members of the Lords Spiritual have contributed strongly to the debates on welfare in the House of Lords.