The Bishop of Bradford today warned the Government that spending cuts and welfare reforms were having a “scandalous” impact on communities in the north of England.
The Right Reverend Nick Baines, also known as the ‘blogging bishop,’ heads a list of 30 northern Bishops and senior Church leaders who have signed a strongly-worded open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.
The letter, released today ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, said cuts and reforms were undermining the principles of mutual care that are crucial in a good society.
Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus last night, he said it was important for the Church to tell the Government how its proposals would hit those outside London.
“Welfare reforms mean the poorest people are getting poorer, while the richest people are getting richer – and that’s a scandal.
“In this letter we are telling the Government they are not just dealing with figures in Whitehall, this is having an impact on people every day and the poorest are paying the highest.
“In Bradford we have 38,000 children living below the poverty line. That is something we cannot remain silent about. The letter is us taking responsibility to make sure those in power know what impact their decisions have on the ground in other parts of the country, where they are not.”
The list of signatories includes Mgr John Wilson, for the Catholic Diocese of Leeds, the Rev Dr Roger Walton, Methodist Chairman of West Yorkshire District, Bishop Tony Parry, from the New Testament Church of God in Bradford, the Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rev Jane Day, Regional Minister (Mission) for Yorkshire Baptist Association, the Rev Kenneth Evans, chairman of the Yorkshire District Conference of the Moravian Church and the Rev Kevin Watson, Yorkshire Synod Moderator of the United Reformed Church.
Together, they write: “As Church leaders in the North of England, we would like to express our concern over the way that cuts in public spending and reforms to the welfare system are beginning to play out in the communities we serve. We are disturbed that the political rhetoric that is increasingly used of benefits claimants, ‘scrounger’ and ‘feckless’ to name but two, stigmatises welfare in such a way that those who are in genuine need become reluctant to make claims, to the detriment of themselves, their families and the communities in which they live.”
“Church leaders offer their full support for a Welfare State that exists as a safety net for the poor.”
They conclude by urging the Prime Minister “to achieve a better balance in the UK economy between the South and the North,” to enable people in northern communities to deploy and benefit from their skills, thereby enhancing the productivity of the country as a whole.”
But Bradford East Liberal Democrat MP David Ward said the country’s welfare bill was “spiralling out of control” and most people accepted change was needed.
“There have been rumours that winter fuel allowance and free travel for over-65s would be cut, but they have been protected. Pensioners have seen the biggest increase in their pensions, the lowest paid public sector workers were exempted from the freeze in public sector pay.
“It’s important that we protect the most vulnerable in society and ensure they are not disadvantaged by welfare reforms. I hope the bishop realises that and will support us on the positive changes.”
Keighley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said: “There are a lot of people out there working very hard who are annoyed that there are other people who are not working and could be.
“We have got to spend what we have got and if the Bishop of Bradford is saying we should go back to the last Government and start spending money we haven’t got, he is very wrong.”
Shipley’s Conservative MP Philip Davies said the only complaint about welfare reforms from his constituents was that a proposed cap on benefits was “too high”.
“I completely, totally and fundamentally disagree with the Bishop. The previous system trapped people in poverty, making sure people weren’t able to get out of benefits into work, being better off on benefits than in work. The Bishop of Bradford is out of step with most of the people in his diocese.”