Sunday, 10 March 2013

Thank God for the bishops

It's Sunday.  So it's appropriate that the letter from the Church of England bishops condemning what the government is doing to welfare benefits should be in the news today, together with a statement from the new Archbishop of Canterbury.  Welby chose to focus on children.  According to the Telegraph, he said, "As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish. It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing. The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation. These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the Government.”
On TV, the spokesman for the bishops was the Bishop of Ripon.  He was pugnacious, vehement and in command of the figures.  He slated the use of derogatory language like "scroungers" to describe those forced to claim benefits.
Iain Duncan Smith has had to respond.  According to Sky News he is "a committed Christian"; no wonder that on TV he looked a bit hurt and bemused.  But he repeated what he obviously believes, and which he spelled out in the Independent:  “This is about fairness. People who are paying taxes, working very hard, have hardly seen any increases in their salary and yet, under the last government, the welfare bill rose by some 60 per cent to £200bn.  That means they have to pay for that under their taxes, which is simply not fair.  That same system trapped huge numbers, millions, in dependency – dependent on the state, unable, unwilling to work.  What is either moral or fair about that? That’s my challenge to the bishop.  There is nothing moral or fair about a system that I inherited that trapped people in welfare dependency, some one in every five households has no work, that’s not the way to end child poverty. Getting people back to work is the way to end child poverty. That’s the moral and fair way to do it.”
His argument is ridiculous.  By far the largest part of the welfare bill is pensions.  People are without work because they can't get work.  Nothing he and his government are doing is going to help that situation, and pushing individuals and families into deeper poverty and hopelessness, dependent on charity for food and eventually homeless, is going to conjure jobs which pay wages which people can live on.
I don't want to get embroiled in religious arguments.  Throughout the centuries Christians (as well as adherents of other faiths) have been able to persuade themselves that anything they wanted to do could find justification in Holy Writ.  I could point IDS to Matthew chap.25 v. 31 onwards; and then he might try the epistle of James, chap.5.  But I suspect that it wouldn't shake his conviction or trouble his conscience.
But thank God for the bishops.


  1. I'm not a religious person but I nevertheless welcome this intervention by the church - and not just any old church but the church of the establishment. Better late than never I suppose! Let's hope that what they lack in punctuality they make up for with the vehemence of their actions and words.
    I am reminded of an ancient Arabic proverb: My enemy's enemy is my friend.

  2. You summarize the flaws in Duncain Smith's argument very well but let me add this:

    Most people who are claiming JSA or any other kind of benefit will have paid into the system via National Insurance and PAYE income tax i.e. they are FULLY ENTITLED to claim social security.

    Furthermore, Smith's argument that because real wages are falling it is 'fair' that benefits are cut is DELIBERATELY misleading because benefits such as JSA are set at a very low rate i.e. any fall will hit them RELATIVELY much harder.

    The reason they are claiming social secutity, whether it be JSA or Working Tax Credit, is because they are either out-of-work or they are being paid minimum wage. This is not their fault but the fault of successive governments to properly tackle unemployment and the fall in real wages since the 1970's.

    Much of what Smith says is right-wing posturing but the danager is there and we need to be vigilent. The parallels between now and the rise of 1930's facism are clear.

    If the Welfare State was dismantled the implications for EVERYBODY would be terrible.

  3. Aunty Beeb are likely to cop it from IDS. They have reported the Archbishop extensively but they haven’t breathed a word about the riposte from IDS.

    Last time IDS had one of his hissy fits, he screamed about Aunty Beeb, I believe. The general gist of his whinge was that he believes Aunty Beeb doesn’t lurve him enough. (Aunty Beeb doesn’t lurve him at all, as a matter of fact, but IDS can’t cope with emotional rejection, it seems.)

    Never mind, IDS. Welby has God, the Vatican and the Judges lined up on his own side of the Bear Garden. What does IDS have by way of lurving and loyal supporters? The Daily Mail. Finito. Not even dear old Aunty Beeb. It’s a hard life, isn’t it, Iain?

  4. What makes Justin Welby, The New Archbishop of Cantebury's words more interesting perhaps is his business background. Welby comes from a business background and had worked in the oil industry for 11 years, including having an executive position. So he no doubt has some grasp on economics. Somewhat harder then for Smith and his ilk to say he (Welby)knows nothing of what he is on about.

    Smith may call himself a Christian. However, he is clearly a rigid ideologue first. He is rather like a scientist or researcher conducting an experiment who has the results written down long before the actual test results come in. And should those test results not match the original thinking, they'll be redone until they do!

  5. ... psst! don't mention the work programme. even ids and hobo don't mention it these days! it doesn't even make it into their defensive briefing now, let alone provide them with a reflex sound-bite.

  6. If the government is so concerned about the cost of social security in this country why don't they simply introduce caps on the rents that btl landlords can charge their tenants?

  7. Should this blog not be called, "Thank god for all those tax payers". No tax payer; no welfare. Simple.

    1. You silly person. You divide society into tax-payers and welfare claimants, and don't understand that they can be the same at different times.

  8. Have saving that pay interest ?
    Have shares and get dividends ?
    Buy things in shops ?
    Pay for gas/electricity/TelCo ?

    Bar a few VAT exempt items, you pay tax every time you open your purse or receive any monies.


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