Benefit reform effects a ‘disgrace’ – senior Catholic

Britain's most senior Catholic cleric has described the effects of the coalition government's benefits reforms as a 'disgrace', and said the changes have removed even the most basic safety net for those threatened by poverty. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said the system has become more 'punitive', leaving people with nothing if they fail to fill in forms correctly.

Key quotes

  • 'The basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart. It no longer exists. And that is a real, real dramatic crisis.'
  • 'Second, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive. So if applicants don't get it right, then they have to wait. And they have to wait for ten days, for two weeks, with nothing – with nothing. And that's why the role of food banks has become so crucial for so many people in Britain today. And for a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.'

In a subsequent interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the Archbishop added: 'The voices that I hear express anger and despair... Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks'.

In response, Prime Minister David Cameron said that benefits reform was about giving 'new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance', and that it was part of his own 'moral mission'.

Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP and member of the No 10 Policy Board, said that senior Church figures should not 'lecture from on high'.

Source: Interview with Vincent Nichols, Daily Telegraph 17 February 2014 | Press release 19 February 2014, Downing Street
Links: Vincent Nichols interview | Downing Street press release | Telegraph report (1) | Telegraph report (2) | BBC report | Daily Mail report | Guardian report (1) | Guardian report (2)

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Publication date: 
Feb 17 2014