Church leader criticises 'insidious' poverty

(PA)In this photo dated 20 December 2011, workers at the Black Country Food Bank prepare food parcels.

The Auxiliary Archbishop of Westminster has called upon those in government to take inspiration from the Pope and his desire to meet the needs of the poor and destitute.

Speaking to over 35 MPs and representatives from 26 leading Catholic Charities at CSAN's annual parliamentary reception, Bishop John Arnold said that "Poverty is a challenge to the whole sense of justice, to the very fabric of our society."

Bishop Arnold, a trustee of Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), went on to say that the success and civilisation of a society should be measured by the care given to the most vulnerable and in need.

The bishop praised Pope Francis for the "freshness he brings not only to our Church but as a voice in our world...because of the priority he places always on the defeat of that insidious thing called poverty".

Just last week, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales released a statement that served as a reminder of the Pope's challenge to "remember the poor; to recognise the dignity and gifts of each person; to resist stigmatising the poor; to persevere in creating the common good by actively engaging in our local communities to alleviate poverty and address social injustices".

The Church of England has also weighed in on the debate. An address by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, at this week's General Synod focussed heavily on the poor economic situation in the UK and of both the Church's and the Government's need to respond to the plight of what he called "the working poor".

He revealed that an estimated 4,000 people were reported to be experiencing food poverty in North Yorkshire over the past six months, and food banks all over the country were experiencing an increase in demand for emergency food aid. Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks across the UK, reported a 170% rise in numbers turning to food banks in the past 12 months; close to triple the number helped in 2011-12.

The trust says rising living costs and stagnant wages are forcing more people to live on a "financial knife edge".

Executive Chairman Chris Mould has called the level of poverty in the UK unacceptable, saying: "It's scandalous, and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people."

Chief Exectutive of CSAN, Helen O'Brien, supported these claims, saying that the challenges Catholic charities are facing in the fight against poverty have increased.

"We are seeing record numbers of people queuing at food banks, unprecedented levels of in-work poverty and explosion in demand for support services," she says.

But she added that the Pope's call to action, echoed by Bishop Arnold, is inspiring Catholic communities to "focus on the poor and marginalised in our communities and parishes".

"We are definitely witnessing the 'Pope Francis effect'," she said.