More than 70 leading Catholics have written to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who is Catholic, to tell him they fear the impact of his welfare reform policies.
In an open letter the group, led by the thinktanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform, calls on Duncan Smith to redraft his policies “in a way that is more compatible with Catholic and Christian values.”
They highlight benefit sanctions, work capability assessments, the benefits cap and the scheme to incorporate all benefits in a single system of universal credit as policies that are worsening the situation of poor families up and down the country.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives,” the letter says.
“However, we believe that [your policies] are in fact doing the reverse. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
Duncan Smith was the first Catholic leader of the Conservative party between 2001 and 2003. In 2010 he was named one of Britain’s most influential Catholics. Since his appointment at the head of the Department for Work and Pensions that year, he has led a radical reorganisation of Britain’s benefits system to ensure “work always pays more”.
But he has faced criticism from campaigners who say that cuts to benefits have led to suicides, an increase in poverty and the social cleansing of wealthier areas, particularly in London and the south-east.
Disability campaigner Mary Laver is to deliver a special birthday card to Iain Duncan Smith – to thank him for plans to “imprison” her in her own home.
She is protesting against his party’s plans to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on June 30.
Mary, 67, of Forest Hall, Newcastle, said: “I’m very frightened about what this will mean to me and anything I can do to at least raise the issue of this appalling cut, the better.”
The former RAF servicewoman has rheumatoid arthritis so severe that she cannot walk or use her hands.
As such she requires constant care – receiving around 18 hours a day or 126 a week at present. The majority is funded by her local authority but 46 hours a week comes as a result of the ILF.
Ironically it was set up by the Conservatives in 1988 for disabled people with high support needs to enable them to live in the community rather than move into residential care.
It costs about £320m a year and helps nearly 18,000 disabled people across the country.
However, according to the plan, in June the funding and responsibility of ILF care and support needs will transfer to local authorities – but there is no obligation to use the money specifically for ILF.
And after one year, the funding from the Government will cease, meaning local authorities need to find it from their own ever decreasing budgets.
Mary is travelling to London with her support team for her protest on Thursday, the Department for Work and Pension Minister’s 61st birthday.
She will set off in her powered wheelchair and travel from the House of Commons, via the Royal Courts of Justice, 14 miles to Duncan Smith’s Chingford constituency in London to deliver a card she has had specially designed for the occasion.
She said: “I do not want to trust anyone else with such an important gift.”
Speaking of the effect the closure of the ILF will have on her, Mary said: “He is going to imprison me in my own home for the rest of my life without a parole or right to appeal. My crime? The crime that I have committed is becoming a disabled person.
“Not only am I disabled, but I am severely disabled with a mandatory life sentence.”
In 2009, Mary travelled from Land’s End to John O’Groats in her electric wheelchair to raise money for The Royal British Legion and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
She has taken part in the Great North Run and in 2012 she carried the Olympic torch through Newcastle.
Mary said: “This will probably be my last long journey.”
She added: “There are 18,000, give or take a few, ILF users who are going to lose on the 30th June, the funding to live an independent life, a life that non-disabled people accept as normal.
“The ILF stands for, Independent Living Fund, that is what the it gives us, our independence to enable us to live our life as we see fit.
“My message to all political parties is that it is not too late to save the ILF. Be true to yourself and stop the cruellest cut of all, cutting the Independent Living Fund, the ILF.”
A conservative spokesman said: “Our understanding of disabled people has changed over the past 20 years, and along with it there have been significant developments in how we provide social care to disabled people so they can live independent lives.
“Spending on disability benefits has increased under this Government – we continue to spend £50 billion a year on disabled people and the services provided to them. As part of our long-term economic plan we want to make sure that disabled people are given the support that allows them to fulfil their potential.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Apr 2015
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was slammed by food bank campaigners after claiming it was wrong to say people relied on them as a result of benefits sanctions.
The Conservative minister said there were many reasons why people relied on them, but said that insisting it was just to do with benefits was “quite wrong”.
His comments came after a Church of England-backed report showed how delays in welfare payments and sanctioning of claimants were key factors behind people using food banks.
Matthew King, assistant manager at Newcastle’s West End food bank – the busiest in the country – said the minister was not telling the whole story.
“Mr Duncan Smith is being economical with the truth. Unfortunately he’s got quite a track record with this subject of being very selective with his facts.”
Talking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, Mr Duncan Smith said people going back to work were less likely to want to use food banks.
He also claimed food aid in the UK was “tiny” compared to Germany. He said:
“In Germany, food banks are used every week by 1.5 million people. It is tiny in proportion here compared to a place like Germany which has more generous benefits and in which you have a higher level of pay.
“So just saying it is to do with benefits is quite wrong.
“What I do say is there are lots of other reasons lots of people go to food banks.”
But Matthew King said the people he sees at his West End food bank, which helps around 1,000 households every week, are suffering as a result of benefit sanctions.
“The majority of the people who come to us are subjected to benefits delays and sanctions, or reductions because of the bedroom tax.
“They are really struggling to cope and to put food on the table.”
But Mr Duncan Smith defended the speed with which benefits are processed.
He said that when the Coalition came to power only 88-89% of payments were processed on time, compared to 96-97% now.
But the minister accepted that the advanced payment that all job seekers are entitled to needed to be better publicised.
He said: “If they have a difficulty financially, there is money available to tide them over any particular area or time they have a problem with.
“What the report said was that we need to do more to advertise that. So we are doing that now and I accepted that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Dec 2014
> He’s back… and he’s more insane than ever. You just have to watch his pronouncements with a sort of fascinated horror. What will he do next ?
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has come under fire after claiming the North East has benefitted more than any other region from the Government’s welfare reforms.
The Conservative Minister said benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax had helped encourage people into work.
And he highlighted the North East as the region which had enjoyed the biggest increase in employment, partly as a result of his policies.
But the comments were criticised by Labour MP Grahame Morris, who argued that the problem was a lack of jobs rather than a refusal to work.
Mr Morris called for more action to support former mining communities – after a major study warned they had yet to recover from devastating closures and job cuts following the miners’ strike 30 years ago.
He said: “There simply aren’t enough jobs in the local economy to soak up the workforce, and driving down the living standards of the disabled and those relying on benefits isn’t going to solve that problem.”
In a speech highlighting recent falls in unemployment, Mr Duncan Smith claimed the last Labour government had allowed people to stay on benefits instead of working.
He said: “Businesses needed the labour and, because of the way our benefit system was constructed, too few of the economically inactive took the jobs on offer.”
Mr Duncan Smith said welfare reforms were partly about “encouraging work”, including the policy of cutting housing benefit for people in council or housing association properties who are considered to have spare rooms. This is described by the Government as cutting the spare room subsidy.
He said the result had been “remarkable”, adding: “Employment is up in every region . . . increasing the most in the North East of England over the last year.”
Latest unemployment figures put the number of people in work in the North East at 1.214 million, an increase of 61,000 people over the past year.
It means the number in work increased by 5.3 per cent over 12 months, which is the highest percentage increase of any region.
However, the North East also continues to have the highest unemployment rate, at 9.6 per cent.
And there are 49,000 people aged 16 to 24 who are out of work in the North East – an unemployment rate of 24 per cent, or almost one in four, for that age group.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that 37,249 households in the North East have had benefits cut because of the bedroom tax, losing £12.82 a week on average.
A separate study from the Department for Work and Pensions found that nationally, 57 per cent of claimants affected by the bedroom tax reported cutting back on what they deemed household essentials and 35 per cent on non-essentials in order to pay their shortfall. A quarter of claimants said they had borrowed money, mostly from family and friends, to pay their rent.
> As ever, sanctions seem to have been left out of the reckoning. What percentage of that fall in people claiming unemployment is actually due to people having benefits sanction but not in work ?
Mr Morris said: “The basic problem in the North East is that we don’t have enough jobs paying a decent living wage and offering decent terms and conditions of service.
“The government should be directing more of its energies to securing economic growth in the North East rather than squeezing the local economy via cuts to the public sector and to social security.”
He highlighted a report called The State of the Coalfields, commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, a government-backed charity, which warned former coalfield areas required continued support to help people into work.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Aug 2014
Unite Union Press Release:
The opposition of nearly 350 charities to the government’s new ‘workfare’ programme has ‘holed the scheme below the waterline’, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Thursday 5 June).
Unite has welcomed the news that 345 voluntary sector organisations, including household names such as Shelter, Crisis, Scope and Oxfam, have pledged not to take part in the Community Work Placements (CWP) programme.
This week was meant to be the deadline for organisations to start the new mandatory CWPs which require that jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants do six months work placement – or risk losing their benefits.
Unite, which has 60,000 members in the voluntary sector, has branded the scheme as “nothing more than forced unpaid labour.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The mounting opposition from the not for profit sector has holed one of Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship projects below the waterline. More waves of opposition will sink this scheme once-and-for all.
“This obscene programme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour.
“Unite welcomes the fact that so many charities have given this scheme the thumbs down as they can see that it is grossly unfair and a perversion of the true ethos of volunteering.
“Questions have to be asked about the government’s slavish reliance on the controversial private sector contractors, such as G4S, to implement the CWP programme.
“It was G4S and its security shambles that was the only blot on the London Olympics two years ago.
“We are against this scheme wherever Duncan Smith wants to impose it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.
“It is outrageous that ministers are trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits clawed back.
“What the long queues of the unemployed need are proper jobs with decent pay and a strong structure of apprenticeships for young people to give them a sustainable employment future.”
Unite is opposing workfare in local government and will be raising it as an industrial issue with local authorities which do not sign the pledge. So far, 13 local councils have signed up not to implement any workfare programmes – and more are actively considering doing so.
With so many council cuts, Unite is determined that workfare placements are not used to replace paid jobs.
Unite’s growing community section will be on hand to support unemployed people forced onto workfare schemes.
> This last paragraph looks interesting….
Source – Welfare News Service, 05 June 2014
Welfare cheats will face higher fines for duping the system and could even be forced to sell their homes to reimburse the taxpayer, under new attempts to tackle benefit fraud.
Ministers are set to announce a package of plans this week which will highlight a crackdown on fraudulent claims and outline action to be taken against benefit cheats.
It will also be announced that pensioners who fail to declare their full earnings from private pension schemes will be targeted as fraud investigators cross-check HM Revenue & Customs records.
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.
> Hang on – the amount of benefit fraud is said to be a whopping 0.8 % – how much are these less than 1% alledgedly fraudulent claims worth each ?!
Or is IDS playing fast & loose with the figures. Again.
Meanwhile tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.
He said the reforms ‘strike a fair deal between claimants and the taxpayer, help more people into work and help us build a strong society’.
> Claimants are taxpayers, taxpayers are claimants – I do wish he’d stop these crude divide & rule tactics.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: ‘If you’d listened to the scaremongers, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were ripping up the welfare state and telling people to fend for themselves.
‘In fact what we are doing is returning the welfare state to what it was meant to be – a safety net, not a way of life.’
He said the number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits was already down by more than 630,000.
It is understood ministers will now set about recovering debts owed by benefits cheats and will work with private debt collection firms in an attempt to recover around £414million of the money owed.
> …will work with private debt collection firms – ah, I think we can see where this is going…
> a new benefit fraud division set up in the Department for Work and Pensions to pursue those who make false claims – presumably they will work closely with the private debt collection firms, and on the general premise that anyone claiming benefits is probably out to defraud.
In addition, a publicity campaign will be launched to try and urge claimants to ensure their details are correct and they are not accidentally receiving too much money.
> How about if mistakes are made by the DWP ? Will the house of the person who made the mistake be at risk ?
Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘The incontrovertible truth is that we are building a system that makes work pay, is fairer to taxpayers and claimants, and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain.’
> Eh ? and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain. What is that supposed to mean ?
He also said the ‘revolutionary’ reforms which are ‘work-focused, responsive and economically literate‘ bring the welfare state into the 21st century.
The Telegraph reported how the Government spent £166billion on benefits and state pensions to more than 20 million people last year but ‘lost’ £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error.
> Hang on – earlier we were told Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.
Well, for a start, they’re most of the way through those five years… is he going to instigate retrospective seizing of property or something ?
Even if it was for 5 years, £3.5 billion x 5 = £17.5 billion. Where does IDS get £50 billion from ? Surely he’s not anticipating making a big profit on seized goods and houses ?
Also, £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error – payments made in error are not fraud, so the actual amount of fraud is smaller – probably much nearer the 0.8% normally quoted.
It seems that once again IDS is out with his sledgehammer to crack a nut, but probably the real intention is to spread his vile lies and bolster his reputation (what’s left of it) as a champion of the striving taxpayer against the skiving benefit fraudsters.
Mind you, while we’re on the subject…
Source – Daily Mail, 06 April 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Monday 3rd March 2014
Nearly 70,000 job seekers have had their benefits withdrawn unfairly, making them reliant on food banks, the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange has said .
The intervention is the first by a respected rightwing voice claiming that something has gone wrong with the administration of benefits.
A chorus of churches, charities and Labour has been warning the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, for months that the administration of benefit sanctions has become too punitive.
Duncan Smith has commissioned a limited independent review into the administration of sanctions, and this is likely to confirm problems in the way they are imposed, but not challenge their level.
Policy Exchange says almost a third of all people who break their job search conditions for the first time have their benefits taken away by mistake and face unnecessary hardship as a result.
Guy Miscampbell, the author of the Policy Exchange report, said: “It is clear that there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks”.
The report suggests: “With some 874,000 adverse decisions being made between October 2012 and September 2013, and over 146,000 of them being successfully appealed or reconsidered it is clear that the possibility of wrongly applied sanctions, and what their effects might be, is an important one. With some estimates suggesting that 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan, it is clear that there is not currently an adequate safety net for those who are wrongly sanctioned”.
The report comes as a public health specialist, Professor Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University, said that poverty–stricken families who cannot afford to buy sufficient food are overtaking unhealthy eating as the most pressing public health concern.
The claim is made in a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday evening, which found that over a third of local authorities in England and Wales were providing funding for food banks, despite government claims that charity food is not a part of the social security system. “Food banks are an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound,” Dowler said.
On Sunday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, repeated his criticisms of the welfare system, saying that “some of the priests who are right there on the ground say it comes across as punitive”. He revealed that he was bringing a group of priests together to discuss the evidence, and welcomed the inquiry into food banks being chaired by the archbishop of Truro and Frank Field.
Policy Exchange suggests issuing first-time offenders, who may or may not have been fairly sanctioned, with a ‘yellow card’ in the form of a benefits card. It says this would be a more compassionate way of trying to help people back into work.
Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continues to breach job search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away. This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship while a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on.
They would also be asked to sign on daily as part of a proposal to create a more compassionate but stricter sanctions regime.
It suggests that repeat offenders should be punished more seriously.
> So its still all sticks and no carrots…
The report also recommends more stringent penalties for people who consistently break the terms of their job search requirements. According to the research, between October 2012 and September 2013 there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences such as missing an interview with a Jobcentre adviser. Repeat offenders should have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks should be added.
Monday’s Panorama also uncovers evidence that a jobcentre appears to be explicitly alerting its staff to the financial savings to be made through “sanctioning” job seekers when they are judged to have broken benefit conditions.
A wall chart in a Grantham jobcentre explicitly sets out the cash savings available to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through stopping the benefits of claimants, ranging from £227.20 a week for a four-week sanction to £3,728 for a sanction lasting one year.The DWP told Panorama: “This was an isolated incident and does not reflect our policy on sanctions.”
> And we don’t believe you.
In a way, its more comforting to believe that they do have targets…otherwise you’d be left with the impression that a large proportion of Jobcentre staff are vicious, sadistic bastards willing to wreck people’s lives on a whim.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Mar 2014
> The following was received by email. I’ve omitted the writer’s name and a couple of identifying locations – you never know who might be reading.
I am emailing in connection with the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent acknowledgement of the unfair JSA sanctions being imposed on thousands of people throughout the UK during the last year or more.
I am one of these statistics myself, having been sanctioned in early Dec 2013 for ‘limiting myself‘ as regards my job seeking. This was in the same week I had attended and BEEN SUCCESSFUL at a part-time job interview!
I also believe that, as I had just started on the Work Programme in the very same week that there was more going on than met the eye. I had to attend to sign on at a different office ( XXXX Road, – linked with ZZZZZ JC+) and the new advisor immediately started becoming intimidatory towards me because I wasn’t logging my job searches on the Universal Job match system online (hand writing it instead – which is my right).
I informed her that I had researched this and that it wasn’t obligatory to document jobsearches online. She was apparently attempting to find any reason to impose a sanction on me and stated that I hadn’t applied for 10 jobs in the last fortnight according to my contract.
This contract had been created without my consultation when I originally started signing on at ZZZZZ in Dec 2012. I stated this but it fell on deaf ears.
I have been in the process of following the complaints procedure ever since, having now written 3 complaint letters none of which has even been acknowledged never mind responded to – including one to the Director of Operations.
I am not signing on now, having found more part-time work this month and exceeding the 16hr limit. I intend to continue with appealing my unfair discrimination however regarding the 4 week sanction which left me without a penny to live on for *7 weeks in total*. The Hardship Payment application wasn’t processed until mid Jan 2014 (the sanction dated back to 23/11/13).
I applaud the Bishop for speaking out against this disgusting legislation and practice imposed by this uncaring coalition government. I believe this is a violation of people’s basic human rights – to be paid the barely sustainable JSA to be able to eat, pay bills and attempt to find work in an employment climate that is unfavourable for many, particularly when we are often discriminated against just for being unemployed in the first place nevermind the dearth of suitable jobs.
Shame on Cameron, Osborne, Duncan-Smith and the rest of them! These people have absolutely no idea what it means to live on the barest minimum, so I suppose it is no surprise to really expect them to give a damn.
Of course my case is just another piece of evidence of our broken welfare system. The sooner this is addressed the better. I feel for those who are reduced to food banks or worse in these unjust and unequal times. I happen to be fortunate enough to have a small amount of savings not to have to do so.
This article was written by James Meikle, for theguardian.com on Friday 21st February 2014
The government’s welfare shakeup has survived two legal challenges at the court of appeal after five disabled tenants failed in their attempt to get the bedroom tax declared unlawful and judges ruled against claims the £500-a-week cap on benefits violated the human rights of vulnerable families.
The decisions mean that central planks of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits changes remain intact, although there may yet be further challenges at the supreme court.
The bedroom challenge questioned the legality of new “size criteria” regulations that have led to reductions in housing benefit payments to tenants in social housing assessed to be underoccupying their home. It was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Two lone parents and a child from each family challenged the benefit cap after being forced into temporary accommodation in London.
Campaigners say the welfare cuts are having a particularly harsh impact on women fleeing domestic violence, and on their children, threatening to trap them in abusive relationships.
Those challenging the bedroom tax vowed to continue their battle following the ruling. Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, representing two people with disabilities who argue that their second bedroom is essential, said lawyers were disappointed and baffled by the ruling.
“The court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules. However, the court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able-bodied counterparts just because they are disabled.
“Instead disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short-term and discretionary payments. We are currently considering whether an appeal to the supreme court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is acting for three of the appellants, said: “The government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes. Disabled tenants are not asking for extra funds, they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others.”
Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of Sense, the national deafblind charity, said the bedroom tax policy had been devastating for many disabled people. “Many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment and for short-term carers.
“Many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They are struggling with the transition from DLA [disability living allowance] to Pip [personal independence payment] and many are facing huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives,” said Kramer.
“Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to serious financial hardship.”
A statement from the Department for Work and Pensions said:”Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the benefit. But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is available for vulnerable people.”
On the issue of the cap, the statement said: “We are pleased that the courts have ruled again that the benefit cap complies with the European convention on human rights. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.”
In the judgments, Lord Dyson said Duncan Smith was aware of the “serious impact” of the new criteria for housing benefit, which was why so much effort had been devoted to seeking a solution. He recognised the benefit cap would “cause hardship to some (possibly many) people who are on benefit” but the government recognised it might need modification.
> I suspect the only modification Duncan Smith has in mind is extending hardship from “some” people to the greatest number possible.
The cap in its present form reflected the political judgment of the government and had been endorsed by parliament after considerable debate. It was not up to the court to say whether it agreed with the judgment or not, he said.
Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors, representing two women who had fled violent marriages along with their children and were challenging the benefit cap, said the judges had not decided important issues of principle affecting the large numbers of women and children made homeless by domestic violence every year.
“The government promised to address this in April 2013, 10 months ago, but has failed to do so. The court recognised the problem and expressed concern about the government’s delay in addressing it, but they have abandoned many domestic violence victims to their fate until the government chooses to act,” said Carrier.
“That is not good enough for my clients, or for the many women who will face a stark choice about whether to stay with a violent partner, or flee and risk losing their home or being destitute.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 Feb 2014
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