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.
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)