Lord Carey: Community breakdown, not welfare cuts, to blame for food poverty

Church leaders who attacked Government welfare reforms were "too simplistic", a former Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Published 25 February 2014  |  
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Lord Carey says that solely blaming welfare cuts for increased poverty in the UK is "much too simplistic"

A former Archbishop of Canterbury has entered the debate on welfare reforms, criticising Church leaders who have blamed the Government's cuts for directly inducing food poverty in the UK.

Last week, 27 Church of England bishops were among the more than 40 faith leaders who signed an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron in which they condemned welfare cuts, wage freezes and the rising cost of food.

The Church leaders said these had been the cause of a "national crisis" and that failures in the benefit system had left families destitute.

"One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children, and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards," the letter read.

They argued that the coalition Government must take responsibility for the part it has had to play, and demanded urgent action: "We call on the Government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger."

Writing in The Times, however, Lord Carey has criticised the views expressed in the letter, contending that they are "much too simplistic".

"They are right in describing a serious problem, but only partially correct in their analysis," he writes in a column for the newspaper, published today.

"It is much too simplistic to blame these problems on cutbacks to welfare and 'failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions'," he says.

The former Archbishop agrees that there is a real problem of food poverty in the UK, something he calls the "phenomenon of hunger", noting that churches are well placed to understand the issues that the population is facing.

However, he suggests that a breakdown in strong family networks, "kinship and neighbourliness" is much to blame for "chaotic and unstable" households, and indicates that the bishops are naive to claim otherwise.

He also criticises the decision to publish their letter in the Daily Mirror, "a left-wing tabloid", saying that this choice alone will distract "from the more mature debate they should be having face-to-face with Government ministers".

"The Church of England is at its best when it avoids party politics and instead works with all partners to tackle social and economic injustice," Lord Carey said.

He defended welfare cuts, contending that any political party would reduce the "gargantuan" welfare budget "as a matter of economic common sense".

To blame a single government is problematic, he suggested, although he also underlined Cameron's failure to enact the Big Society and promote community and family values.

Despite the strong criticism, the former Archbishop applauded the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby for his promise to challenge payday loan companies by competing them out of existence.

Lord Carey concluded: "There remain urgent questions about governance, spending and subsidiarity that are simply not being addressed. It is better for politicians, church leaders and others to address these questions together and avoid false ideological divisions."

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PM David Cameron has defended his Government's welfare reforms

Lord Carey's comments come just over a week after the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, who was recently made Cardinal by Pope Francis, criticised Cameron's cabinet for its welfare and tax policies.

He blamed "inordinate" levels of taxation for increased poverty in the UK, particularly within families in which there is only one working parent.

The PM was forced to defend his party's policies, contending that welfare reforms have been made in an effort to build "a country where people aren't trapped in a cycle of dependency".

Cameron also repeated a previous statement that "those who can should, those who can't we will always help".

The Times notes that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has promised to reduce Government expenditure on welfare by £17.7 billion, a target that will almost have been reached by April this year.

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