17 February 2014, The Tablet

Welfare cuts a 'disgrace' that has ripped apart nation's safety net, says Cardinal-designate Nichols

Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis on Saturday, has criticised the Government’s welfare cuts, calling them a “disgrace” and arguing that a safety net for the country’s most poor has been removed.

Cardinal-designate Nichols added that because of a punitive administration system, some people are being left with no resources for several weeks, relying instead on food banks.

He told The Daily Telegraph that “the basic safety net, that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution, has actually been torn apart. It no longer exists, and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.”

Nichols added that “the administration of social assistance – I am told – has become more and more punitive” and that “if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait and they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks – with nothing, with nothing. And that’s why the role of food banks has become so crucial for so many people in Britain today. And for a country of our affluence that quite frankly is a disgrace.”

A spokesman for Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is a Catholic, said it was wrong to say the safety net for the poor had been removed. “Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.”

“It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”

Professor John Loughlin, Director of the Von Hügel Institute at St Edmund's College, Cambridge, told The Tablet: “I agree with the archbishop: some reforms of the welfare system are necessary but these should not remove the safety net for the most deprived individuals or communities. To do so would be directly contrary to Catholic social teaching.”

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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