- Conscience and the Commons
Following his election as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron was grilled by the media about his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Has the focus on faith, which began with Tony Blair, reached the point where it is harder than ever to hold religious beliefs and play an active role in political life?
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has backed Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols in his row with the Prime Minister over welfare cuts.
“I am entirely with him,” Archbishop Welby told The Tablet during a press conference at Lambeth Palace yesterday morning.
He added that the Church of England was well placed to judge the impact of welfare cuts because it connected with people on the ground through its priests and churches.
Yesterday the Daily Mirror published a letter from 27 Church of England bishops – almost half the total – as well as Methodist, United Reform Church and and Quaker leaders, denouncing the cuts and warning that they had created “a national crisis”.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, responded almost immediately, telling a food bank volunteer who called in to the London-based radio station LBC 97.3FM that the Cardinal-designate’s comments were “an exaggeration”.
In addition, the Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of misquoting welfare statistics in an article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph yesterday refuting Cardinal-designate Nichols’ comments and claiming that the Government’s welfare reform was part of a “moral mission” that would give “new hope”.
But Paul Morrison, author of The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty, a 2013 report commissioned by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, criticised the Prime Minister for misunderstanding welfare statistics.
Mr Morrison said that while the Prime Minister said almost a million and a half people spent the last decade out of work, all bar 1,000 of those were sick or carers. And of those people claiming "unlimited amounts of housing benefit", in 2010 only 0.01 per cent of households received more than £40,000 in housing benefit and more than half of housing benefit claims were for less than £4,000.
“The key question – why Churches and charities are seeing more people in abject destitution – remains unanswered,” Mr Morrison said.
In his Telegraph article Mr Cameron wrote: “Our welfare reforms go beyond that alone: they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.
“Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart, too, of our social and moral mission in politics today.”
But in the interview the archbishop gave to Saturday's Telegraph, Cardinal-designate Nichols said the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution had been “torn apart”, often leaving people with nothing for days if they failed to fill a form in correctly.