Leading Catholics tell Iain Duncan Smith to change course on welfare reform

The welfare secretary is Catholic himself

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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.

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. "