Ian Fletcher spoke on Welfare reform at St Paul’s Church, Manningham, in the third of the “Liberating the Spirit” Sunday evening events.
Here is what he said:
Our welfare system has been with us for many years. Some of us do not remember a time before a welfare system. Those who are willing to admit their age, and the history buffs among you, may remember the Beveridge Report in 1942 that set the scene for the welfare state. Now the system is creaking at the joints and has been in need of reform for some time. Many people think the reforms have not been properly thought through, are being introduced too quickly and have not been subject to proper critical analysis.
Jesus advised rich people to look after poor people. As Christians we are called on to ensure the welfare of the widow, the orphan and the stranger. There are those who think the welfare system relieves them of all responsibility for other people. This is unfortunate not least because it ignores the fact that we can suffer poverty in ways other than financial ways. There are those who distinguish between deserving poor and undeserving poor. Beveridge wrote a second paper to reflect his concern that the welfare state should not relieve individuals or communities of responsibility for care of the vulnerable, the weak or the unfortunate. As Christians we should always be concerned for others.
The current reforms are demonstrating that widespread cracks exist in the system. Those who drop through the cracks first are often those who are the most vulnerable. We are seeing this in various ways. One example is the children who are living well below any poverty line. In many cases schools are feeding their pupils because they are not being fed at home. We are seeing it through the demands being made on food banks and we are seeing positive responses to need by Churches
The Children’s Society has produced a brilliant booklet “The Heart of the Kingdom” looking at Christian theology and children who live in poverty. I commend it to any of you with an interest in social justice issues although it is not a light read.
The Government have found themselves in a very difficult place in that they somehow have to live in the real world and at the same time balance competing demands. There are those who say the rich should pay more tax in order to pay more out in benefits but in the real world many of those rich now tear down their barns in this country and build their bigger barns in warmer places and therefore pay nothing in taxes to our government, a reduction of 100%.
The first thing to understand about welfare reform is that there are multiple reforms taking place. These changes are taking place on different dates. For some this is like torture by a dripping tap. They suffer one cut and are then hit by another cut.
Not all the changes are adverse for everyone and not every change affects everyone but if you have a very low income from benefits it can feel that way. Certain welfare benefits such as the state pension have been ring fenced and will not be cut at this time.
There will always be people claiming benefits that should not be claiming but this is a very small number overall. Any system is open to abuse. Most claimants are genuine and the system acts as a safety net to these people.
The under-occupancy charge, also known as bedroom tax, was introduced in April 2013.
It affects tenants of working age who have spare bedrooms. Benefit is reduced by 14% of rent if you have one spare room and 25% if you have two.
For the purposes of this tax children of the same sex are expected to share a room. While encouraging people who can downsize to downsize might be thought a good thing the change in practice has adversely affected many vulnerable people. Smaller properties can be difficult to find Those who have moved to avoid the tax leave behind their neighbours who are often their friends and have to start again which is exactly what Jesus spoke against in this morning’s reading. There is an adverse effect on children.
From April 2013 Council tax benefit has been abolished. Instead of paying nothing people in Bradford are now expected to pay 25% of their council tax. In Leeds they are expected to pay 19%. In Harrogate they pay nothing. Again this affects the most vulnerable and the effect has been to clog the courts up with cases of unpaid Council Tax.
Personal independence payment was introduced from June 2013. This is intended to reduce the numbers classed as disabled but people classed as able to work are not always able to find a job but still suffer reduced benefits.
From August a Benefit cap has applied. It will have little effect in Bradford but will have an effect in London. It is intended to encourage folk to move to lower cost housing. There are areas in London where you have to be either extremely wealthy or on benefits in order to be able to afford to live there which as a concept cannot be right. Often the families most affected will be those with large numbers of children and it will be the children in these families rather than the parents that suffer.
Universal Benefit is about to be introduced. This will bring all benefits together into one monthly payment . This is intended to strengthen the incentive to work. If payment of Universal Benefit stops for any reason no money will come in to the family. Folk who can’t budget on a weekly basis are suddenly expected to budget on a monthly basis, All claims will have to be made online whether or not you have access to a computer or know how to work one. There are plenty of people, and there may be some here this morning, who are computer illiterate.
The Government hopes by the reforms to increase the incentive to work, to encourage greater personal responsibility, and to allow a more effective use of the housing stock. All these are laudable aims which have widespread support in churches and beyond . The Government is not solely concerned to cut public spending
The Church Urban Fund point out that while there has been analysis of each welfare change there has been no analysis of the cumulative effect of the changes. Church Urban Fund concludes that thousands of households will be worse off because of the reforms.
The Church Urban Fund also point out that affects on people will not only be financial. People will need to consider moving homes, changing jobs and leaving support mechanisms.
Locally we have set up a project through Wellsprings Together Bradford, a joint venture between CUF and the Diocese. This project is looking to enable conversations about God’s love for all people, to create local networks of good practice, to enable internet access through participating Churches, to enable events to show how to budget and how to cook and live more cheaply and to support the introduction and management of satellite food banks.
We hope through this project to help those in need and to help people meet with Jesus. We hope Churches will be willing to be vulnerable and to open their doors to those in need. We hope they will listen to the need of those around them and respond and because need may be difficult to see that they will share their observations with others.
I leave you with a quote from Proverbs 30:8-9:
“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my Lord.”
Liberating the Spirit – Service for the Community, takes place at St Paul’s Church, Manningham, generally on the first and third Sunday evenings of each month. The future programme includes:
Refreshments & chat from 5.15pm. Service 5.45-6.30pm.
We welcome all ages, all faiths and none.
- Some links from the CPAG conference in Manchester (gmwrag.wordpress.com)
- £380m a year taken out of North East as a result of welfare reforms (thejournal.co.uk)
- “The real impact of welfare reform cannot just be measured in pounds and pence” (24dash.com)
- Inner South Area Committee to discuss impact of Welfare Reforms (southleedslife.com)
- The Housing Associations, Welfare Reform and My Dad (weeklyblogclub.wordpress.com)
- Welfare Reform 2.0: alleviating hunger is a moral hazard (digbysblog.blogspot.com)
- Welfare reform begins to bite in Manchester (manchester.gov.uk)