Churches challenge Government over poverty and welfare
We're challenging Iain Duncan-Smith to meet people on benefits and base his policies on their experiences
The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Housing Justice and Church Action on Poverty have welcomed plans for a simplified benefit system, but we have raised concerns that the proposed reforms are based on inaccurate assumptions about the poor.
"There is a serious danger that people living in poverty will be stigmatised by government announcements which imply they are workless are lazy or work-shy," said Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the Methodist Conference. "The Government seems to assume that if people are forced into to working they will comply and their lives will be made better. The poor we meet are seeking to better their lives in difficult circumstances. They are willing to work, but face difficulties in finding jobs, in meeting caring responsibilities and in living on the wages offered."
"People who are long-term unemployed are already struggling to find work in a marketplace where there is increasing pressure on both the public and private sectors," added Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice. "Some need help to develop the skills to find and keep a regular job. What they do not need are punitive measures such as the proposed cut in housing benefit by 10% after a year out of work. Most of all, they should not be forced to do manual labour in return for their benefits for just £1.73 an hour - £4.20 below the current adult minimum wage."
Graham Sparkes, President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: "We meet people on a daily basis who are experiencing long-term unemployment. Unemployment, especially in an area where there are few jobs available, damages a person"s self-confidence, health and ability to survive life"s knocks. The Government needs to understand what people in poverty need in order to return to work. It"s not good enough to just tell people to "pull their socks up"."
Niall Cooper, Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty, said "We ask the Government talk to people in poverty and base their policies on combating the problems they face daily. Iain Duncan Smith should come to one of our listening events, where people struggling to make ends meet tell their stories. Simplistic solutions such as benefit cuts, telling people to get on a bus to find work, and enforced labour would face a harsh reality check.
"Government welfare policy needs to be based on a realistic assessment of who is living in poverty and what they really need to get back into the workforce. We are concerned that policy should not be based on skewed figures and a misunderstanding of the poor."
With other churches and Christian agencies, we recently wrote to David Cameron asking him to set the public record straight after Chancellor George Osborne conflated figures for benefit fraud and error during his speech on the Comprehensive Spending Review, claiming that there is three times as much fraud as shown by Government figures. So far we have not received a reply.
Wage figures are based on a healthy 24-year-old seeking full-time work. £1.73 x 30hrs per week = £51.90; Jobseeker's Allowance for a 24-year-old is £51.85. For a 40-year-old the equivalent hourly rate is £2.18. (£2.18 x 30hrs = £65.40; JSA for a 40-year-old is £65.45).