This morning we reported in the FT that bishops in the House of Lords are leading an attempt to exempt children from the below-inflation rise in benefits. This follows on from the comments of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over the weekend, who said:
By protecting children from the effects of this bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty.
But just as interesting as the bishops’ response to government attempts to slash the welfare bill has been the reaction of Tory MPs to the archbishop’s comments.
It used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer, but given the anger on Conservative benches right now, relations can rarely have been worse. This is just a sample of what I was told yesterday.
He is entitled to his opinion but I believe he is wrong. It is unforgivable that he didn’t have the courtesy to mention this to Iain Duncan Smith when he met him last week if he feels so strongly about it.
David Lidington (Europe minister):
Bishops are perfectly entitled to express their views but it is not enough just to say they don’t like some reform – they need to say what they would like done instead. Also, they haven’t yet engaged with Iain Duncan Smith’s analysis about benefits dependency.
As with women bishops, this just shows how out of touch my church is sadly. And there is no credit for us uprating benefits by 5 per cent last year.
I’m surprised and really disappointed. I had hoped he would be more realistic. Labour’s arbitrary definition of child poverty in purely financial terms ignores the profound impact of parental mental health, substance misuse, criminality. Love, attention, empathy – sound Christian principle. Surely these better define the quality of childhood?
I was disappointed. I had hoped he would have been more engaged with the realities of welfare reform.
It says in John, “My father’s house has many rooms,” but the gospel does not say, “And they should be subsidised by the taxpayer.” This shows the difficulty clerics get into when they start getting into political economy. I hope the archbishop does not make the same mistake as his predecessor, which is to imply that deficit reduction is somehow unethical.
As for Iain Duncan Smith himself, I am told that he is most frustrated that Welby did not mention this at a meeting the two of them held last week. In fact, says one ally, Welby was full of praise for the work and pension secretary’s overall programme.
Perhaps in response to this backlash, Welby is now in damage limitation mode. He wrote on his blog yesterday:
The current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has spent hard years turning himself into a leading and principled expert on welfare, its effects and shortcomings. He is introducing one of the biggest and most thorough reforms of a system that most people admit is shot full of holes, wrong incentives, and incredible complexity.