Bishop and MP clash over welfare reforms

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer.

The Bishop of Ripon and the city’s MP Julian Smith have clashed over Government proposals to limit increases in welfare benefits.

The two met in an eleventh hour meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Rt Rev John Packer’s concerns over the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill – which would cap working-age benefits increases at one per cent annually for three years – immediately before a House of Lords debate.

“I think it’s an unfair Bill,” the Rt Revd Packer said. “At a time of financial austerity people who cannot afford to pay should not have to bear the burden of the cuts.”

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds claims 60 per cent of the savings made from the Bill will be taken from the poorest third of people in the UK, compared to only three per cent from the wealthiest.

“The Government’s own estimate suggests that 200,000 children will be pushed into poverty by this Bill,” he added.

But Conservative MP Mr Smith has defended the welfare cap, claiming something must be done to make it “more attractive for people to be in work than on benefits”.

In an earlier letter to the Bishop sent on March 13, Mr Smith wrote: “The Government’s approach is to protect those in the greatest need.

“Disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance, incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance, and the support element of employment and support allowance are all protected.”

Mr Smith arranged Tuesday’s top-level meeting with the Bishop before the debate to discuss how working families in Ripon would be affected by the Bill.

“I hopefully persuaded the Bishop that this is a huge benefits Bill with a moral imperative to encourage people into work,” said the MP.

But during the House of Lords debate the Bishop proposed an amendment – later rejected by peers in a vote – to exclude certain payments from the cap in order to protect children’s benefits and tax credits.

Speaking to the Gazette after the vote, the Bishop said he was “disappointed the Lords have failed to protect children in this way”, adding: “This makes it all the more important that local churches get involved in support for children in most need.”

– The Bill will move to its third reading in the House of Lords, where there will be a last chance for peers to make amendments, on March 25.