Archbishop of Canterbury condemns 'demonising' characterisation of benefit claimants

Justin Welby’s comments will be interpreted as a veiled attack on ministers’ generalisations

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The Independent Online

The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the characterisation of people on benefits as “feckless” and launched an impassioned defence of the food bank generation.

The Most Rev Justin Welby’s comments will be interpreted as a veiled attack on ministers’ generalisations about those reliant on handouts. In a further blow to the Coalition he also suggested that their flagship welfare policy, Universal Credit, made “large-scale arrears” a “serious possibility”  and that parts of Britain seem “stuck in endless poverty and deprivation”

Speaking at the National Housing Federation conference in Birmingham, he said: “Food banks are sadly necessary as much for those in work as out of it, and… are not invariably the result of fecklessness, laziness or just sheer idleness, and demonising those who use them is not an approach that we should take”

Insisting that he was “not making a party political point”, the Archbishop said that the benefits shake-up was likely to mean a rise in debts to housing associations.

“We all know the introduction of Universal Credit, paid direct, is a massive change in the risk profile of housing associations”, he said, later adding: “When a series of other things are combined, notably reductions in benefit to take account of what is seen as excess house space - the so-called bedroom tax - higher costs for energy, and for many the fact that with CPAs (continuous payment authorities) short-term lenders can take money direct from an account within hours of it coming in, suddenly the problem and possibility of growing a large-scale arrears becomes very serious.

“A sense, more seriously, of instability for people in already tough places becomes more and more real.”

The Archbishop also said that the “endless decline” of impoverished parts of the country could be halted and reversed by the building of a “great coalition” between the Church of England and housing associations.

A Government spokesman said: “The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help into cycles of worklessness and welfare dependency. Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal credit making three million households better off and lifting up to 250,000 children out of poverty. 

He added: “Even after the reform of the spare room subsidy, we continue to pay over 80 per cent of most claimants' housing benefit and have made £190m of extra funds available to support vulnerable tenants.”