Archbishop of Westminster attacks welfare and tax policies

Published 18 February 2014  |  

(PA)

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has criticised the Government over its welfare and tax policies.

In an interview with The Telegraph on Saturday, Britain's most senior Roman Catholic and future Cardinal said that the welfare state was becoming "more punitive".

Then on Radio 4, the Archbishop and Cardinal-Designate criticised the tax system, claiming "inordinate" levels of taxation were responsible for high levels of poverty in families with one working parent.

"There are people ... with one person in a family working, paying what they consider to be an inordinate burden of tax so that that keeps them in poverty," said the Archbishop.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, families with one stay-at-home parent are the largest group of households living in poverty.

Approximately 400,000 families of this kind live below the breadline, compared to 210,000 duel earning families and 105,000 single parent families.

Although the Archbishop did not suggest specific reforms to the tax system, his intervention has been seen as encouraging the Liberal Democrats who want to increase the income tax allowance from £10,000 to £12,500.

In his interview with The Telegraph, the Archbishop pointed to what he saw as two problems occurring simultaneously in the welfare system.

"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," he said.

"And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance - I am told - has become more and more punitive."

This attack is aimed at reforms being organised by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.

The plan involves simplifying the welfare system by merging six different benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, Child Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit, into just one payment.

The Archbishop argued that the change had actually lead to people going without, with people waiting for their benefits to be processed for ten days, leaving them with no money for food.

Food bank operator the Trussell Trust said the most common reason behind people coming to them for help was failure in benefits processing.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions was quoted on the BBC as saying: "It's wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we're spending £94 billion 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 Archbishop said the money was failing to reach some people.

"Priests of mine tell me that every now and then they put some food in front of a woman and she bursts out crying, she hasn't eaten in three days. Now, it is stories like that that are part of the reality of this country today," he said.

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