Bishop of Carlisle to investigate impact of welfare reform in Cumbria
The Bishop of Carlisle is to oversee an investigation into whether the Government's welfare reforms have increased poverty in Cumbria.
The Right Reverend James Newcome will be chairing a commission tasked with reviewing the impact of the existing reforms, as well as the probable effects of future proposed changes.
The commission will be gathering evidence from charities, community organisations, and individuals over the next few months.
It was set up at the request of the Cumbria Leaders' Board, a group of prominent leaders from the county's public and third sector.
Quoted in the Westmorland Gazette, the bishop said: "This is a vitally important body of work and one which I'm sure will demonstrate directly the frontline impact of welfare reforms.
"It's our Christian duty to ensure all in society are cared for and protected and that any reforms do not unfairly penalise people.
"I would urge anyone who has concerns to register those with the commission through the proper channels. This will allow us to feed back to the relevant authorities all of our findings."
The commission's three main aims are to understand the impact of welfare reform in Cumbria, to respond with ways to minimise the impact, and then to publish and promote specific recommendations.
Specific areas that will be looked at include how benefits are assessed, changes to 'in work' benefits, housing benefit, benefits for supporting the disabled, and issues of access to information and claims support for people in rural areas.
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To accomplish this, the commission will gather a body of evidence including written reports and case studies from organisations as well as direct testimony from individuals, all offered with full anonymity for participants.
The first of four hearings was taking place today with a session in Barrow, and will be followed by one in Shap on March 10, Carlisle on March 18, and Whitehaven on May 12.
Bishop Newcome added: "We are asking charities, churches and community organisations to firstly provide any information or reports currently available on the impacts on their service users.
"Secondly we would like organisations to nominate and support clients to attend and give evidence to the Commission. And thirdly we want to interview representatives of organisations helping people."
This comes more than two weeks after Parliament voted massively in favour of an investigation into whether the welfare reforms are affecting poverty levels in the UK.
The vote was 125 to 2 in favour of the motion "That this House believes that a commission of inquiry should be established to investigate the impact of the Government's welfare reforms on the incidence of poverty". However, David Cameron has so far chosen not to act on the motion.
The findings of the commission in Cumbria will be reported in June 2014.