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Church criticised over welfare changes response

The Conservative Christian Fellowship is calling on the Church not to take on the role of the Labour Party in campaigning against welfare reform.  The comments from the Executive Director, Colin Bloom, came in the wake of the Chancellor's speech today defending his welfare reforms.

The Chancellor, speaking at a Morrisons distribution depot in Kent, said he was "proud" of the changes, arguing the government had had to take difficult decisions to cut the deficit and said the current benefits system was fundamentally "broken".

The shake-up includes cuts to housing benefit for some social housing tenants with a spare room and alterations to council tax.

However, four major British Churches are describing Mr Osborne's defence of the benefit cuts as 'deeply disappointing'. Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser, speaking on behalf of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland said:

"The Government's own figures show that most people on benefits not only want to work, but many of them are already in work and paying high rates of tax.

"We desperately want people to achieve their God-given potential, but that can't happen when the most vulnerable are being made even poorer.

"The churches are serving their local communities day in and day out. They reflect the breadth of society and are in touch with the needs of the people they serve. 

"We hope to reflect those concerns, and we look forward to the day when myths about poverty are no longer acceptable in public life.

"While nine out of ten working households will benefit from an increased tax allowance, the poorest working households will benefit the least and will be affected most by the benefit cuts introduced this month. 

"It is absolutely clear that the net result of these changes will not be nine out of ten working households better off, as has been widely reported."

However, Mr Bloom tells Premier he thinks the Church should support the changes:

Rises in benefits are to be capped at 1% for the next three years, and there's now a £26,000 ceiling on the amount an individual household can receive.  Critics claim the poor will be hit hardest, but ministers say work must pay more than benefits.

Mr Osborne called opposition to the changes "shrill, headline-seeking nonsense", adding "there's nothing kind about parking people on benefits who could be working".

He said: "The system became so complicated and the benefit so generous, that people found they were better off on the dole than they were in work.

"Even at the end of the economic boom in 2008, there were more than four million working aged people on out of work benefits. 

"For too long we've had a system where people who did the right thing, who get up in the morning and work hard, felt penalised for it.

"So this month, we're going to put things right. This month nine out of 10 working households will be better off."

He also defended his decision to cut the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p, branding it an "economic essential".

Mr Osborne added:

"We cannot have a top rate of tax that discourages people from living here, setting up businesses here, investing here and creating jobs here.

"My job is not to take decisions that please everyone."

The Labour party says the reforms will hit the poorest 10% of people hardest while those in the top 10% will gain.

These Premier listeners explain what they think about the Church's role in supporting people in need: 

The Children's Society feels the government is giving with one hand and taking away with another.

Its Chief Executive Matthew Reed said:

"The government must face the facts. Low-income families - working and non-working alike - are all being hit by tax and benefit changes and are all being forced to make tough choices every day. 

"The government's commitment to making work pay is the right thing to do. The majority of children growing up in poverty are in working families struggling to make ends meet. 

"Low paid work often simply isn't enough to meet the rising costs of living, and benefits are vital to topping-up family budgets. 

"Raising the personal allowance of income tax may sound like it will help these families, but for many this means the majority of any gain will be lost from their Housing and Council Tax Benefits.  

"For some tax payers, 'the largest tax cut in a generation' will mean an overall gain of as little as just 80p a week. 

"And the government's own figures show that changes to benefits, Tax Credits, and income tax are actually making the poorest third of households an average of around £200 worse off a year. 

"Vast numbers of children in working families on the lowest incomes are being pushed deeper into poverty.

"It is children who will suffer from the government's failure to protect them from cuts to welfare.  

"The government urgently needs to recognise that it is poverty - not benefits - that blights children's futures."

The government says its welfare reform programme is already working, claiming that one in three people on incapacity benefit stopped claiming when they were asked to complete a medical.

Goverment figures show nearly 880-thousand refused checks to see if they were fit to work and around three in four who did see a doctor were judged capable of doing some work. Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith has responded to an online petition calling for him to live on £53 a week. The Work and Pensions Secretary claimed he could manage it, when speaking about the welfare reforms yesterday.

He's saying he "knows what it's like to live on the breadline". Conservative MP and Christian Andrew Selous is Iain Duncan Smith's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He told Premier's Victoria Laurence during the News Hour why he's standing by the comment:

So far more than 240-thousand have backed the call for Mr Duncan Smith to prove he can live on that amount.

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