31 January 2012

Church leaders say benefit cap will make UK a darker, less humane place for us all

The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Quakers in Britain have called for Parliament to hold to the humane principles of the welfare state and reject a benefit cap. Church leaders said that the principle of a cap was flawed and would inevitably put vulnerable families at risk of poverty and homelessness.

The Revd Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, said: "The principle that all who play by the rules should receive enough to meet their basic needs has been at the heart of the welfare system for 65 years; if the benefit cap becomes law that principle will be destroyed. Only families whose basic needs are less than £500 per week will be safe. Families who have greater needs, however rare, will be left behind."

The Churches agreed with the Government that the vast majority of families require less than £26,000 to meet their basic needs. Church leaders said that when a family qualifies for more than £26,000 in benefit, it is because the means testing rules have found exceptional need. If these rules give too high a level of entitlement, then the rules themselves need to be changed. They added that an assumption that no family can ever need more than £26,000 was contradicted by every reputable piece of available evidence.

The Revd Leo Osborn, President of the Methodist Conference, said: "We regret much of the tone of the debate around welfare reform especially where it has encouraged people to blame the workless poor for their struggles. Rising unemployment, the deficit and flat economic performance are not the fault of the poor, nor will capping benefits solve these problems or realise any significant savings for HM Treasury."

The Revd Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: "Minimising the struggles of the workless, implying a high standard of living where there is none, and trivialising the problems of homelessness further pollute the debate. A benefit system which deliberately ignores the needs of a vulnerable minority will make the UK a darker and less humane place to live in."

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for the Quakers in Britain, said: "We know the Government intends to make cuts, but we object to it being at the expense of those who are unable to work. We challenge the benefit cap which takes no regard of family size and could split families. It is a principle of the welfare state that those who meet the strict criteria for benefit should receive them. The welfare cap is a blunt and cruel instrument for reducing the deficit. We consider that the test by which proposed government cuts should be judged is the impact that they have on equality." 

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