Thinking Anglicans

Bishops slam David Cameron's welfare reforms

Updated Friday morning

Today’s (Thursday’s) Daily Mirror carries this article by Jason Beattie: 27 bishops slam David Cameron’s welfare reforms as creating a national crisis in unprecedented attack.

The bishops (and other church leaders) have sent this letter to the Daily Mirror.

Sir,

Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry.

Half a million people have visited foodbanks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK 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.

We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must “heat or eat” each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years.

Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.

On March 5th Lent will begin. The Christian tradition has long been at this time to fast, and by doing so draw closer to our neighbour and closer to God.

On March 5th we will begin a time of fasting while half a million regularly go hungry in Britain. We urge those of all faith and none, people of good conscience, to join with us.

There is an acute moral imperative to act. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing so already, as they set up and support foodbanks across the UK. But this is a national crisis, and one we must rise to.

We call on government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.

Join us at www.endhungerfast.co.uk.

It is signed by 27 Anglican bishops (25 Church of England and two Church in Wales), ten Methodist chairs of districts, three United Reformed Church Moderators and two Quakers.

There is already a lot of online news and comment.

The Telegraph
Keith Perry Bishops condemn Government welfare reforms
Matthew Holehouse Clegg hits back at bishops: We spend billions and billions on welfare
Benedict Brogan Church vs State: is David Cameron facing a crusade?
John Bingham and Matthew Holehouse Welby: churches know what they are talking about in benefits warning

The Guardian
Nicholas Watt Bishops blame David Cameron for food bank crisis
Steve Richards Comment is free It’s no wonder David Cameron has alienated the church
Andrew Brown Christian conservatism takes radical position against welfare cuts

BBC News
Church of England bishops demand action over hunger
Clegg hits back at bishops’ welfare reform criticism

Channel 4 News Heat or eat? Church of England bishops’ hunger plea

Financial Times Editorial Britain’s bishops deserve a hearing

Adam Withnall The Independent Britain faces food poverty ‘national crisis’ because of Government welfare reforms, bishops warn

Nick Baines blogs Bashing the bishops

Tim Wyatt Church Times Empty plates: campaigners ask Christians to go hungry

Update

The End Hunger Fast campaign issued this press release: Church leaders call national fast for UK’s hungry as “End Hunger Fast” campaign planned for Lent. The copy of the open letter on their website has slightly fewer signatures than the copy in the Daily Mirror, which may explain the discrepancies in the number of bishops quoted in the press articles.

Helen Warrell and Jim Pickard Financial Times Clergy preach to Cameron on benefit reform

The Guardian
Editorial Food poverty: government in denial
Patrick Butler Families turn to food banks as last resort ‘not because they are free’

Charlotte Leslie MP The Telegraph Haven’t the Bishops heard? Charity begins at home

Daily Mail
Tamara Cohen and Steve Doughty What hunger crisis? Bishops are so wrong on welfare, says Clegg: Deputy PM reacts angrily to claim ‘safety net’ has been removed
Editorial Preaching the sermon according to Labour
Simon Heffer Will the Church ever learn there is nothing moral about welfare dependency?

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Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Legitimate case, but kind of makes you wonder why St Pauls was so reluctant about having us pitch a few tents in exactly this cause (or they could even have asked us *in*).

Susannah
First Aid Tent
Occupy London

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

I’m interested to know whether the Bishop of London has a view on this? He’s not listed as a signatory, but is there no poverty in London? There may be a reason he didn’t sign, like illness or absence of some kind. Or political allegiance. Or a desire to remain ‘apolitical’.

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Anyway, concern for the poor is a right and proper thing, because God is clearly concerned for the poor:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice,
And untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free
And break every bond?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
When you see the naked, to clothe them,
And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Isaiah 58:5-7

Each one of us can be indicted by these verses, I know I can.

Davis Mac-Iyalla
Guest
Davis Mac-Iyalla

It’s good the bishops are showing concerns for the poor but this does not take away the fact that their pastoral statement on same sex marriage is more of a foreign policy to please Global South bishops and has done more damage than good in England. Food for all is a basic human need, one does not have to be a bishop to know and preach that.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Susannah, as Nick Baines says in his post: “First, it has been suggested that if only 27 signed the letter, then 74 did not: draw your conclusions. Well, the 74 were probably not approached – not because there was selective ideological bias involved, but simply because in such cases only a number of bishops is usually approached for signature. I was not approached, but would have signed, had I been asked to do so. In similar cases where my signature has been added to a letter, most other bishops weren’t approached. Many bishops aren’t online most of the time, many… Read more »

FD Blanchard
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FD Blanchard

Since the compassion of the Bishops is so selective, it’s hard for me to take them seriously.

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

I don’t believe, as some do, that this is a cunning plan either to distract attention from their ‘Pastoral Statement’ or to show that they are really nice people after all. But I do wonder whether they have any idea that their caring words on this issue this week, sound hollow in the light of last week’s and that any credibility or influence they might think they have on government or society is fast disappearing down the drain. There is very little left now. Most people just think it is more wind. And as they say ‘fine words butter no… Read more »

JPM
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JPM

It’s nice to see the bishops interested in something other than sex.

Perhaps this will start a trend.

Turbulent priest
Guest
Turbulent priest

It’s taken the C of E twenty years (or is it a hundred) to get to the kind of gender inclusivity all the main political parties achieved decades ago. And it hasn’t even got there yet. Now we have the “pastoral statement”—following all the research that shows the gap between the bishops’ position and that of many of their own flock (see some of the speeches in the House of Lords debate on the Equal Marriage bill to see that this is not just from younger people.) Up and down the country there are unoccupied and under-occupied clergy houses. See… Read more »

Helen
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Helen

For heavens sake! This posting isn’t about the CoE bishops and their wretched “pastoral” letter; its about the scandal of up to half a million people in this rich country having to rely on food banks. Its so much easier, though, to condemn the bishops rather than think about those less fortunate than ourselves. They’re not the only ones who are selective in their sympathies. Incidentally this letter was signed by senior representatives of the Methodist and URC churches as well as the Quakers and 2 Church in Wales bishops – and no, they aren’t CoE. As for Charlotte Leslie,she… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen, I completely agree with you. Not that there is much that can be said about the letter itself. It is right that it should have been written and I have immediately signed up to the campaign. There is not really much controversy and uncontroversial topics don’t generate comments on TA. But the other thing this is showing is how much the bishops have written themselves out of the picture. Even when they act in a morally responsible way, all people remember is that big unresolved issue of immoral discrimination they are guilty of and all the other signatories are… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

I agree with your basic point Erica about the CoE’s loss of credibility in certain areas and the reasons for it. But it appears from a trawl of the media sites referenced above that the bishops have not written themselves out of the picture: if you get approving write-ups from the Mirror, Guardian, Telegraph and FT, as well as TV news, you can assume that you’re still being listened to. It’s noticeable too that it’s the bishops who get the/headlines: Quakers, Methodists and the URC, despite having much more civilised gender policies, just get a footnote. I suspect the general… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen, thankfully, you’re right that not all of the media are unable to see that bishops can legitimately say something about poverty while being wrong about equality questions in their own church. Although some of the comments I’ve read from columnists and on the online comment threads of some of those reports, those who don’t want to accept what the bishops are saying, or even their right to say it, are increasingly saying that you should not intervene in the democratic process with moral statements when your own organisation is not democratic and immoral. This is a growing trend. But… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

Of course it’s legitimate Erika, but knee jerk reactions can be disappointing if the forum is labelled “thinking”. The comments were rather more forthright than you suggest. Also, it wasn’t just the bishops in England who were raising concerns. I’m used to the Anglo-centric assumption that Wales=England, but signatories included also the URC, whose consultation on SSM has been aired in this forum and the Quakers, who campaigned for SSM. So yes, a bit more thinking about that would have been welcome in my view. I’m not sure who “we” are. Or indeed “most people”: many familiar names have responded… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

Ruth Gledhill writes a column in The Times today which reports the claim the bishops had been conned into supporting a left wing ruse.
A side bar article takes the bishops points one by one, gives a source and variously casts doubt on the claim in each.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“A side bar article takes the bishops points one by one, gives a source and variously casts doubt on the claim in each.” Unfortunately, there is very legitimate debate about the claims that are made about the use of foodbanks. There is a depressing cycle in criticism of governments which runs as follows (for the example of poverty, but it operates mutatis mutandis for accusations about poor healthcare, poor education, etc). 1. A genuine problem exists, for example people being thrown into abject poverty by sanctioning, withdrawal, bedroom tax, whatever. 2. Charities find “good” examples which are publicised, in which… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

…Continued And by the way, any campaign which ends up with the punchline being a defence of households where the total benefits are equivalent to two adults working in good jobs is almost inevitably doomed. There might be very good reasons, and intellectually the case for the benefits in question might be unassailable. But slap on the TV a non-working family with seven kids, a large house and 35 grand a year in benefits, even though those cases are incredibly rare, and the optics are hideous. You will get precisely zero support for the contention that cuts to benefits are… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Now this is the sort of thing that Bishops of the Church ought to be doing – rather than wondering what is going on in the bedrooms of the nation.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen,
when I said “we” and “most people” I was referring to all of us commenting on TA.

David Walker
Guest
David Walker

I think yesterday’s Times piece was a nice example of Ruth doing something she’s good at, and I admire her for. She can work a new angle on a two day old story. I suspect the attempt to discredit the statistics was the work of one of her colleagues. It wasn’t very good, to be honest, which is why virtually nobody else has taken it up since, and I’ve debated live and on air with several well known conservative pundits since then. I think they know well that if they get into a debate about numbers they won’t win, so… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

The Trussell trust gives useful information on those referred to food banks. Nearly 30% of cases occur because of benefit delays. See Trusselltrust.org/stats. It is a commonplace that most of those receiving benefits are in work. On Sunday one of the points on which all participants agreed was the disastrous policy of replacing council housing with housing benefit- to the eventual benefit of private landlords. Add to that the huge inequality in the UK (see that enlightening book The Spirit Level), the rise in food and fuel prices, and the squeeze on wages and you have a problem which should… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

In the interest of the “Thinking” part of Thinking Anglicans, I wonder if the bishops or any of the signatories are working on the underlying causes of the hunger? Yes, of course, in the face of need the government should step up with the safety net. But are there underlying problems that can be addressed? For instance, here in the US the problem is low wages and so there is a movement to raise the minimum wage to a more liveable wage. (70 percent of Americans support it, but alas, we have an oligarchy that might prevent it from happening).… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen,
are there data on how long people need use food banks for?

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“However, it is impossible for many families ( and no, I haven’t any figures; this is anecdote) to eat fresh vegetables and fruit daily, never mind 5 portions” I would want to be very, very clear about the causes: money? Cooking facilities? Shops? Ability to cook? All we have is anecdote, and it’s easy (but not entirely invalid) to get bogged down in “if they can afford to smoke they can afford to buy carrots”. But from having had my children at a school with very high levels of deprivation, inability to cook is a substantial barrier, as is housing… Read more »

David Walker
Guest
David Walker

Hi Cynthia. We’re working nationally on the Living Wage campaign which would reduce benefits paid to those in work, and on credit unions. We are seeking to make the bedroom tax politically unacceptable. I’ve done stuff on reducing the public spend on interventions with the small number of families who have many expensive interactions with the state, whilst enabling the families themselves to thrive. And of course, as we said in our letter, we need to get the system to pay what it is meant to when the money is due, and not to sanction except in extreme cases of… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

It’s my understanding Erika that you have to be referred to a food bank by eg social services and you receive food for 3 days only. The issues you raise Cynthia are common to the UK too. Last year the Quakers worked with the New Economics Foundation to present an on line economics course. This was pretty challenging for my tiny brain, but the squeeze on wages emerged as a major problem as did the huge rise in house prices relative to incomes and,in the absence of new council housing, the knock on effect on rents. All this is the… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

The Jack Monroe Helen refers to above started out as a single mum trying to feed herself and her son on benefits. She began to publish simple recipes and acquired so many followers that she then became a very effective campaigner highlighting the issues facing people on benefits.
Her blog is http://agirlcalledjack.com/
Her Twitter handle: @MsJackMonroe

Helen
Guest
Helen

A cartoon of the Tory version of Christianity is doing the rounds. Faced with the 5000 Jesus says, “I can’t possibly feed all these people_- it will destroy their incentive to work”.

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

Thank you Cynthia, and + David in response, for broadening this debate from the unequivocal condemnation of the cuts, which has for too long been the only acceptable position amongst the liberal Christian intelligentsia. As + David says, many of the underlying issues which Cynthia mentions are also present over here. And there is another issue, also common to both countries, but which has not been mentioned in this thread, or in the bishops’ letter – gross overindebtedness by the government. Even after the cuts, which have generated such concern and hostility, our government is still spending each year over… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

A few suggestions Malcolm… Reassess our spending on arms eg the new aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft we are in the midst of ordering. I forget how many billions that would save. It goes without saying that we should reconsider Trident. Increase income tax for higher earners. A lot of us, even those of us on middling incomes, have done very well out of successive governments’ policies. Maybe we need to give something back and have our expectations adjusted. Introduce a mansion tax. Introduce a new tax on properties that are empty for over, say, 2 years. The government to… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Any other ideas people?” Most importantly, stop the rhetoric that all these people are lazy and not wanting to work. The public support for all those cuts is largely due to so many people thinking that there are thousands of recipients of welfare who lead a cushy life financed by the hard working tax payer. They really don’t see the genuine hardship that is caused. You just need to look at Jeremy Clarkson’s piece in the Sun: “The Bible is basically a blueprint for Marxism. In Luke 16:19-31 we are told that those who work hard and buy nice things… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

Thank you Helen for your suggestions. Commenting on them risks being seen as political rather than faith-related, and the moderators might not allow it, but then it wasn’t me that started this thread! Stopping half-completed projects probably wouldn’t save much, but we certainly shouldn’t be starting expensive new ones, e.g. Trident replacement, HS2. Many of your other suggestions come under the general category of ‘taxing the rich’. Doing this ‘until the pips squeak’ didn’t work out too well for Denis Healey in 1976, I recall, and if you want to see how well it works in today’s global economy, just… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

Well you asked Malcolm! But not all economists agree with you. The balance between cuts and tax rises is certainly being discussed outside government circles, and even the government is somewhat exercised about tax avoidance. If you look at OECD national debt figures, you will see that UKDebt has risen dramatically under the present government, but there are some countries, notably Germany and some Scandinavian countries where it hasn’t. So there may be alternative economic policies worth exploring. Going back to your previous comment, I’m not sure that anyone criticising the cuts should have to offer an alternative. We don’t… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“It’s a busy picture!”

It is indeed! And I wish you all very well with yours as we work on ours. It strikes me that we are working on the same fundamental issues of livable wages and taxes (and unnecessary wars in which we collaborated).

I guess the role for the church is to advocate for justice and the well being of all of God’s children. Sometimes that’s handing out food, and sometimes it is political advocacy.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

This story is still running with a front page story by Ruth Gledhil today ( Tuesday) reporting George Carey dissing his fellow bishops for, amongst other things, being facile and getting this wrong.

Then The Times first leader also says the bishops got it badly wrong.