Has the Church of England become 'the Coalition government at prayer'?

Anglicans champion welfare cuts while Church leaders condemn them

Published 25 February 2014  |  
PA

Despite recent criticism from Church officials on the damaging effects of welfare reforms, new research suggests that the majority of Anglicans believe that the welfare budget is too high, and that it is creating an unhealthy culture of dependency.

YouGov undertook a survey for the Westminster Faith Debates, the results of which indicate that 60 per cent of all Anglicans - regular and non-regular church attendees - believe that the Government gives an excessive amount in welfare.

This compares to just over half (54 per cent) of the general population who hold the same belief.

Eighteen per cent nationally believe that the welfare budget should in fact be increased, while just 14 per cent of Anglicans agree.

In addition, a whopping 74 per cent of those affiliated with the Church of England believe that the benefit system creates a culture of dependency, in contrast to less than two thirds of the general population.

Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, who undertook the research, has noted that there is a "gulf between recent Church statements on welfare and the attitudes of a majority of churchgoers in the C of E".

"The Archbishops are even more out of step with Anglicans on this than they are in their resistance to gay marriage," she said.

Over half a million Brits have received three days' emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks since last Easter, while hospitals are reporting a doubling in the number of people being admitted for malnutrition. This has led to widespread condemnation of David Cameron's welfare reforms both within and outside of the Church.

Twenty-seven Church of England bishops were among over 40 faith leader who criticised welfare cuts in an open letter to the Prime Minister last week, arguing that the reforms are contributing to a "national crisis" of destitution and poverty.

Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, has also been vocal in the fight to protect the most vulnerable from welfare reforms, declaring last year that ill-thought out policies would mean "200,000 children will be thrown into poverty".

It seems, however, that his flock do not quite agree.

Professor Woodhead said the findings pointed to a diversity of opinion within the Church.

"Overall, Anglicans are more right-leaning than the general population, but are increasingly liberal over issues like same-sex marriage and permitted assisted dying," she said.

"You could say that the C of E is now more like the Coalition government at prayer than the Tory Party at prayer."

Christian think-tank Theos has found additional evidence to support a discrepancy in opinion between church leaders and their congregations.  Ninety per cent of the 2,000 Christians it surveyed believe that the welfare state is facing severe problems, and over half of these believe that fraudulent claimants, "benefit tourists" and open borders are to blame.  This compared to 87 per cent of the general public. 

Research by Haze magazine pointed to misconceptions surrounding benefits.  In its survey, the average person was found to believe that 41 per cent of the total welfare budget goes to the unemployed, whereas the true figure is just 3 per cent.

Although only 0.7 per cent of all benefits claims are fraudulent, most believe that this statistic is much higher, at 27 per cent.

When asked to estimate the amount the unemployed receive in benefits, the average figure given was almost £40 more per week than the reality.

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