Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Churches lambast benefit cuts

A group of leading churches has branded the Government's cuts to benefits as "unjust", saying the most vulnerable people are paying a "disproportionate price" under austerity measures.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland have come together to criticise the public perception of people in poverty.

They say politicians have misrepresented those on benefits in order to justify a raft of cuts that will encompass council tax benefit, payments to the disabled, and the so-called 'bedroom tax'.

The benefit cuts also suggest that people in poverty "deserve" their situation and that they are not valued, according to Paul Morrison, public issues policy advisor at the Methodist Church.

"Our feeling is that these benefit changes are a symptom of an understanding of people in poverty in the United Kingdom that is just wrong," he told the BBC.

"It is an understanding of people that they somehow deserve their poverty, that they are somehow 'lesser', they are not valued.

"The churches believe that they are valued and we believe that they should be treated much more fairly than they are being."

The four churches joined forces to tackle what they see as the Government manipulating statistics to effectively vilify the poor, creating a culture that blames them for their own poverty. They have written a report on poverty and sent it to every MP and Member of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Morrison conceded that the welfare system wasn't perfect, but said: "Whatever problems the country faced it wasn't (the poor) that caused it and shouldn't be them that pay for it."

"The poorest are not lazy. The majority of people who are long-term on benefits are ill or disabled. The majority of people on unemployment benefit get a new job within 13 weeks."

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps hit back at the churches – accusing them of failing to protest when housing waiting lists were rising under Labour.

"Where were these people jumping up and down as those housing waiting lists doubled under the previous administration?" he asked.

Factfile

Changes made to benefits being made include:

• The introduction of a new benefit, the personal independence payment (PIP), to replace disability living allowance.

• Less housing benefit from the beginning of April for UK families living in council or housing accommodation judged to be larger than they need.

• A cap from April 15, in England, Scotland and Wales, on the total amount of benefit working-age people (16-64) can receive.

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