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Bishop defends intervention in benefits debate: The Church of England Newspaper, December 11, 2011 p 7. December 13, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Development/Economics/Govt Finances, Youth/Children.
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Bishop John Packer

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and a Conservative MP have exchanged sharp words over a letter criticizing the government’s welfare reforms.

The member for Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith, told the Ripon Gazette that Bishop John Packer was ignorant of economic reality and out of touch with ordinary people. Bishops should stay out of politics, Mr Smith said, and focus on topics with which they were familiar.

On 20 November 2011 the Observerprinted a letter signed by Bishop Packer and 17 other bishops calling for amendments to the welfare reform bill before Parliament that would cut aid to families with children.

The bishops said they were “compelled to speak for children” in response to a planned £500-a-week benefits cap for families. Such a reduction was “profoundly unjust” and would result in children facing “severe poverty and potentially homelessness.”

Mr Smith said he was “stunned” by the bishops’ intervention into the welfare reform debate. “It shows a complete disconnection with the reality of how hard people and businesses are having to work at the moment to pay the taxes that fund the benefit system and how popular the Government’s decision to cap benefits has been amongst the majority of voters,” he said.

A £2,000 a month cap on benefits was “not only reasonable but generous,” he argued, adding that this was the “third high-profile interference by the Church of England into politics in the past year. It is time democratically elected Government Ministers are left to run the country and church bishops stop these political forays which just don’t represent the facts on the ground.”

Criticism of government policy was well within the Church’s competence, Bishop Packer said. “Politics is concerned with the welfare of people, and the Church is concerned with the welfare of people. So it is important the Church is involved in political debates that could affect the welfare of thousands of children in this country.

“It is the care of children which is particularly important to me in this whole debate about welfare and the way in which people are treated in our society,” the Bishop said, adding: “we hope the Government will listen to the concerns that we, and indeed many others, are voicing, and act for the sake of some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has added his voice to the chorus of criticism of the proposed benefit cap. “I hope the Government will listen to the concerns that are being raised regarding the Welfare Reform Bill,” Dr Sentamu tweeted last week.

“The Government must ensure that children, especially the most vulnerable, are protected from cuts to family benefits,” the Archbishop said.