Editorial: A vocal archbishop is good for the church

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has taken a stand on welfare

Share

Justin Welby will not be formally enthroned for another 10 days. But the new Archbishop of Canterbury – who was sworn into office in early February – is undeterred by such niceties. Indeed, he has waded straight into one of the more politically charged of social policy debates, giving public support to an open letter from 43 bishops that takes issue with the Government’s proposed squeeze on welfare payments.

The bishops’ concern is that the move to limit the increases in both working-age benefits and also in some tax credits to just a single per cent annually, for the next three years, will hit children disproportionately hard.

In support of their position, the new Archbishop issued a formal statement questioning the Government’s decision to stop protecting the poorest families from the effects of inflation, and stressing that a civilised society has a duty to support vulnerable people. “When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish,” Dr Welby wrote, warning that as many as 200,000 children could be forced into poverty by the Welfare Up-rating Bill, which is to be debated in the House of Lords over the coming days. With his background as an oil executive and his outspoken role on Parliament’s feisty Commission on Banking Standards, Dr Welby was never likely to be behindhand in his engagement with the secular sphere. In fact, his worldly qualities were no small part of his elevation to the archbishopric, at a time when the Church is bitterly divided over tricky social issues, such as women bishops and gay marriage, and also struggling with steadily declining attendance.

There is a constructive role for the Church in the public discourse. And Dr Welby’s apparent inclination to speak out holds the promise of real progress in creating an institution more relevant to the modern world. Furthermore, the subject upon which the new Archbishop has chosen to make his foray into the maelstrom of public debate suggests that Lambeth Palace is to make poverty, particularly as it affects children, a top priority.

There are potential pitfalls, though. Broadsides on matters of social policy are allowed to distract from the thorny internal problems facing the Church. Taking a clear stance on issues affecting people’s daily lives is, of course, part of the work to be done in dragging the Church into the 21st century. But so, too, is healing the deep divisions over homosexuality and the role of women. Until these questions are answered, the Church will remain outside the mainstream of modern British life – no matter how apposite its pronouncements on the world outside appear to be.

On the specifics of cuts to benefits payments, Dr Welby is right to be concerned with the impact – on children and adults, both. Where this newspaper parts company with the Archbishop is in his implication. Benefits are not the only way to tackle poverty. Nor can they be exempt from the necessary retrenchment of public budgets. While welfare payments have risen strongly in recent years to keep up with inflation, the wages that are taxed to pay for them have largely stagnated, leaving many households painfully squeezed.

To quibble with the Archbishop’s reasoning, however, is not to query his entitlement to take a stand. Dr Welby has made a promising start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

year 5 teacher

£21000 - £32000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Supply Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Supply Teacher - Chelmsford

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We urgently require Primar...

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried