Church of England Bishops rightly concerned about UK poverty but never reach its painful depths
Flaws in Bishops’ analysis of the welfare state
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — By adding a sixth giant, “isolation” (News, 10 June) to Beveridge’s “five giant evils” of want, disease, squalor, ignorance, and idleness, in their report Thinking Afresh about Welfare, the Bishops have gone a very long way towards describing the dilemmas of poverty in the UK faced by politicians and the electorate, but never reached its depths.
They rightly set a goal of “enhancing the well-being of the whole nation”, but I searched in vain for a description of the impact of debt on mental health reported to governments of all hues by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Government Office for Science, and of the creation of debts by welfare reform; and of the lifetime behavioural problems of too many low-birth-weight babies born to impoverished mothers who cannot afford a healthy diet, before and while they are pregant, described by the Institute for Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition; of the 17-year and increasing gap in life expectancy between rich and poor arears. for an understanding of the socially devisive and growing inequality of wealth accumulated over the past 30 years by land-owning home-owners, corporations, large builders, and landlords, including the Churches, while the landless tenants, with diminishing security of tenure, have rent and council-tax arrears enforced against their low benefit incomes because of cuts in their housing and council-tax benefits.
Perhaps the most serious omission is the failure to mention the deliberate reduction of access to justice by pricing it out of the reach of the poorest citizens and reducing legal aid. The administration of welfare involves millions of decisions to be made by national and local government officials every week. Parliament has passed an immense amount of welfare legislation, the just interpretation of whose practice inevitably requires the courts.
Benefit sanctions, which stop benefit incomes for one month, three months, or three years, are cruel and disproportionate punishments. They create hunger and crippling debts, which pile up during the sanction and have to be paid off over even more months when it ends. The Bishops suggest: “Our approach to sanctions should focus on how they are administered whilst supporting the principled option of using sanctions where they are demonstrably effective in changing irresponsible behaviour.”
No punishment should be left to Jobcentre administrators. They should be proportionate to income and handed down by the magistrates after due process, including independent representation.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
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London N17 0BF
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