Osborne's defence of benefit cuts disappoints Churches

Churches have strongly criticised the Chancellor over his defence of benefit cuts in a speech today.

In his speech to supermarket workers, George Osborne argued the changes would make the benefits and tax system fairer.

"For too long, we've had a system where people who did the right thing - who get up in the morning and work hard - felt penalised for it, while people who did the wrong thing got rewarded for it," he said.

"That's wrong. So this month we're going to put things right. This month, around nine out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes we are making.

"This month we will make work pay."

A string of cuts come into force this month. Monday saw the introduction of changes to council tax and a cut to housing benefit for working-age social housing tenants with a spare room.

Next week, disability living allowance will be replaced by the personal independence payment, and working-age benefits and tax credits will rise by 1%, below the rate of inflation.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland challenged the changes, saying that the poorest working households would benefit the least while being affected the most by the benefit cuts.

Public issues policy adviser for the Churches, Paul Morrison said the Chancellor's defence of the cuts was based on "myths" about poverty.

"We are deeply disappointed that Mr Osborne is continuing to use the misguided rhetoric of people on benefits versus 'hardworking taxpayers'," he said.

"The Government's own figures show that most people on benefits not only want to work, but many of them are already in work and paying high rates of tax.

"We desperately want people to achieve their God-given potential, but that can't happen when the most vulnerable are being made even poorer.

"It is absolutely clear that the net result of these changes will not be nine out of ten working households better off, as has been widely reported."

The Churches have sent the Chancellor a copy of their joint report, The Lies We Tell Ourselves, in which they claim that statistics have been manipulated and misused by the media and politicians across the spectrum to support the belief that the poor deserve their poverty and therefore the cuts to their benefits.

"Lies about poverty are the responsibility of us all, whether we tell, share or just tolerate them," he said.

"It is everyone's duty to ensure that the poor are not misrepresented and that policy matches up to hard facts.

"We invite Mr Osborne to read the report and consider how he might challenge myths about poverty as he seeks to balance Britain's books."