A group of over 70 prominent Catholics has called on Iain Duncan Smith to reverse his welfare reform policies aimed at disabled and vulnerable people.
Figures including author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce; leading academic historian Sir Tom Devine OBE and author David Lodge signed a letter calling for a dialogue about controversial welfare changes.
Mr Duncan Smith, who is himself a practicing Catholic, was told his policies were having the opposite if their intended effect.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives,” the letter reads.
“However, we believe that [your policies] are in fact doing the reverse. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
The letter was also signed by theologians Professor Mary Grey and Professor Tina Beattie, and the Union of Catholic Mothers – as well as academics, writers, retired professionals, justice and peace workers, and parish priests.
Measures singled out by the signatories of the letter include the Government’s new fit-to-work tests, harsher benefit sanctions, the welfare cap, and the rollout of Universal credit.
The Government’s plan to make £12bn of welfare cuts also criticised.
“We would not expect prisoners in our jails to be punished in this way, and would be grateful if you would consider whether it is an appropriate way to treat people who are unemployed, sick, or disabled,” the letter says of Mr Duncan Smith’s benefit sanctions regime.
The letter, which was collated by the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform, cites the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in its call for a rethink.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
That missive, released by Pope Pius XI and considered the word of God, called for the reconstruction of society based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
The letter is not the first religious criticism Mr Duncan Smith has faced.
Last year a report published by the Church of England found that the welfare state was no longer acting as a “safety net” for people in the most extreme need.
Before the last election the Anglican archbishops of York and Canterbury criticised growing inequality in society in a book entitled ‘On Rock or Sand?’.
The DWP secretary has also been criticised for refusing to meet the head of the Christian food bank charity the Trussell Trust.
The Government says its welfare reforms will help people back to work, which it says it the best way to alleviate poverty. Campaigners and other critics point to research suggesting those affected by many changes are facing poverty.
“The benefits system we inherited in 2010 was broken, frequently trapping the very people it was meant to help in a state of welfare dependency," a DWP spokesperson said.
“Our reforms are restoring fairness to the system – for claimants as well as the taxpayer.
“We have maintained a valuable safety net for those that need it, while also ensuring that people who can work are given the skills and opportunities to get a job. "Reuse content