04 December 2012

Reality not myths, Mr Osborne

•  Government warned against stigmatising people in poverty
•  Austerity has made the poor poorer
•  Quantitative easing has made the wealthy richer

Three of Britain's largest Churches have urged Chancellor George Osborne to show respect for the poorest in his Autumn Statement tomorrow.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church have expressed growing concern over the negative portrayal of the poorest by the Government. The Chancellor inflated benefit fraud figures in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, and the Churches are concerned about the use of language which increasingly appears to blame the poor for poverty. 

"We need to guard against justifying welfare cuts by portraying those on benefits as being undeserving or worse," said Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church. "In the run up to this statement Mr Osborne has spoken of families 'with their curtains closed sleeping off a life on benefits,' implying welfare cuts primarily target an undeserving poor. This is a far cry from reality."

The majority of welfare payments support elderly people. Of the money spent on working age people, those receiving most support are in work and need top-up benefits, followed by the sick and disabled. Despite the fact that unemployed people face a harsh labour market, Job Seeker's Allowance is less than 3% of the welfare budget - much less than the £10 billion in cuts being sought. This is the reality the Churches are urging the Chancellor to face up to.

"Welfare claimants deserve to be spoken of with respect," added Stephen Keyworth, Head of Faith and Unity for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. "It is unacceptable to remove money from people already living on a knife edge and justify that by using misleading stories and statistics. The least people deserve is an honest acknowledgement of the truth of their lives. As Christians we believe that everyone is of equal worth."

The Churches argue that the Government's policy of austerity has hit the incomes of the poorest hardest while the other major economic policy, quantitative easing, has increased the wealth of the richest in society.

"There is clear evidence that the Government's twin polices of austerity and quantitative easing have made the poor poorer and the rich richer[1]," said Marie Trubic, the United Reformed Church's Spokesperson on Public Issues. "Poorer families with children have been the biggest losers by far. The Chancellor needs to publicly acknowledge the real hardship that ordinary people are facing because of Government decisions."

1. Distributional Analysis Bank of England paper (Para 16 and Chart 4)
2. More welfare data can be found in this research from the Nuffield Foundation: Impact of modelled tax and benefit reforms: 2011-2014.

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