24 July 2015, The Tablet

Catholics step up pressure on Duncan Smith over benefits

The row between a Catholic cabinet minister and a group of high-ranking Catholics who are criticising the Government’s welfare reforms has continued this week, with further letters exchanged in which each party defends its corner.

Responding to an open letter published in The Tablet three weeks ago, and signed by high-profile Catholics including academics Sir Tom Devine and Tina Beattie and writers David Lodge and Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Mr Iain Duncan Smith says the Government’s plans would restore fairness, simplify the benefits system and help people into lasting employment.

He says that, far from the benefit changes causing claimants’ heath to deteriorate, they were changing attitudes towards gaining employment, and defended the Work Capability Assessment, saying the Government had already made “considerable improvements” to the process, including accepting more than 100 recommendations from five independent reviews. Mr Duncan Smith added that disability benefits had been made exempt from some of the changes in the budget earlier this month.

But the writers of the initial letter have written again to Mr Duncan Smith challenging him on his response. They point to a “number of sources” showing that sick and disabled people have been harmed by cuts to welfare and that guidance from Mr Duncan Smith’s own department suggests benefit sanctions can have a detrimental effect on someone’s health. The new letter also states the Work Capability Assessment is still “not fit for purpose”.

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