Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has accused the Coalition of leaving increasing numbers of people facing “hunger and destitution”.
Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that while the need to reduce spending on benefits is widely accepted, the Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”.
Archbishop Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the welfare system had also become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end if they fail even to fill a form in correctly.
He said it was “a disgrace” that this was possible in a country as rich as Britain.
His intervention comes as he prepares for a Consistory in Rome where he will receive a red Cardinal’s hat from Pope Francis.
The Archbishop’s criticism will be felt acutely by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is a practising Roman Catholic.
Last year Mr Duncan Smith accused Church of England bishops who criticised aspects of the reforms of ignoring the concerns of ordinary people.
“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said the Archbishop.
“But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.
“It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.
“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.
“So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing.
“For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”
The Archbishop is one of 19 senior clerics from around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the highest rank of Roman Catholic clergy. It grants him a place in the secret Conclave which will elect the next Pope.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around five million on out of work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.
“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.
“It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”
> The Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson’s nose suddenly grew to an unfeasible length – an occupational hazard for those tasked with defending the DWP.
Source – Telegraph 14 Feb 2014