Bishops bludgeon, condemn, object, attack, warn... or subtly nudge on welfare reforms
Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester
Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds
Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich
Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham
Rt Rev Richard Frith, Bishop of Hull
Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford
Rt Rev David Rossdale, Bishop of Grimsby
Rt Rev Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans
Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Dudley
Rt Rev Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter
Rt Rev Humphrey Southern, Bishop of Repton
Rt Rev Chris Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton
Rt Rev David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham
Rt Rev Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon
Rt Rev Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover
Rt Rev Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney
Rt Rev John Wraw, Bishop of Bradwell
Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle
Rt Rev Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster
Rt Rev Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead
Rt Rev Clive Young, Bishop of Dunwich
Rt Rev Tim Thornton, Bishop of Truro
Rt Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield
Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield
Rt Rev John Inge, Bishop of Worcester
Rt Rev Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells
Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely
Rt Rev Alistair Redfern, Bishop of Derby
Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester
Rt Rev James Bell, Bishop of Knaresborough
Rt Rev Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol
Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark
Rt Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
Rt Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford
Rt Rev Ian Brackley, Bishop of Dorking
Rt Rev Jonathan Frost, Bishop of Southampton
Rt Rev Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield
Rt Rev David Thomson, Bishop of Huntingdon
Rt Rev John Holbrook, Bishop of Brixworth
Rt Rev Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester
Rt Rev Peter Hancock, Bishop of Basingstoke
Rt Rev Andrew Proud, Bishop of Reading
Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford
Nobody. That's right. Nobody. While even the Pope of Rome is elected by a conclave of cardinals, the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England are secretly selected by the CNC, nodded through by the Prime Minister and rubber-stamped by the Queen. It is a state of affairs which His Grace tried to change during the recent interregnum while he (re-)occupied the Chair of St Augustine, but there's seemingly no appetite for injecting the merest whiff of democratic accountability into this opaque and otiose process.
Were the Church of England to do so, an episcopal interjection on any aspect of government policy would have rather more legitimacy and resonance. As it is, anything they speak into the increasingly secular political sphere is not unreasonably met with the rebuttal 'Who elected them?'.
Notwithstanding, these 43 bishops have written a letter to the Sunday Telegraph objecting to one aspect of the Government's reforms to welfare. It would have been 44, but nobody bothered to ask Pete Broadbent. These bishops have been joined by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which is quite a sizeable cackle of clerics. No wonder the media is portraying this as an 'attack', 'objection', 'condemnation', 'warning' or some seriously eschatological church-state conflagration.
In reality, it is nothing of the sort. Most of these bishops may well be poring over The Observer with their toast and marmalade this morning, but all they are doing is seeking to nudge the Government to accept the most subtle of nuanced amendments to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.
Benefits have historically risen in line with inflation, and this year rose by 5.2 per cent. This seems just, since it is governments that cause inflation and economic policy that sustains it, which diminishes the wealth of all, especially the poor. Since the poorest and most vulnerable of society are already living hand-to-mouth day-to-day, it is incumbent upon those in authority to ensure that 5-per-cent inflation is met with a 5-per-cent increase in welfare, for any less would be to aggravate hardship and suffering. But the Government intends to limit annual increases to just one per cent for the next three years, irrespective of the rate of inflation - which Treasury forcasts predict will be well above one per cent.
This is unjust and profoundly uncompassionate, and so His Grace today adds his name to the 43 bishops (44 with Pete Broadbent, and 46 including the Archbishops). He does so not because he objects to the broad direction of Iain Duncan Smith's reforms, but because we're talking about 11.5 million children. The Children's Society observes:
The poorest families will pay the biggest price. A total of 60% of the resulting savings will come from the poorest third of households, compared to only 3% from the wealthiest.The tone of the rhetoric is unfortunate, not least because few in government understand poverty as well as Iain Duncan Smith: they are not all well-heeled multi-millionaires insulated from the worst effects of the worst recovery from the worst recession in history. Some of them genuinely care. And it is because they care that they must be persuaded and urged to reconsider, for we are not calling for the indolent sluggard to be indulged, but for children to be fed, clothed and kept warm. We are not calling for the irresponsible to be handed £400,000 worth of accommodation and enough welfare cash to feed a horse (literally). No, we are talking about children on the bread-line, through no fault of their own: it is invariably the churches that step in when families become desperate.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'Millions of struggling families now face the double blow of rising costs and cuts to support. If this bill is passed as it stands, it will make life so much harder for 11.5 million children and their families.
'This hardship penalty punishes families from all walks of life, whether they are working or looking for work. But the poorest children will take the biggest hit. This is unjustifiable. The government must not balance the books on the backs of children.'
The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said: “I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns being raised on the impact the changes to the Welfare Benefit Up-rating Bill could have on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, our children. In difficult times it is right as a nation, committed to justice and fairness, that we protect those that are most in need. Even in tough economic times we have a duty and responsibility to care for those who are struggling."
The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement saying the welfare reforms would have a 'deeply disproportionate' effect on children. "Politicians have a clear choice," he said. "By protecting children from the effects of this bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty."
His Grace probably doesn't agree with His Grace's definition of poverty, but both His Grace and His Grace are of one mind when it comes to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Time and again, throughout Old Testament and New, the Lord exhorts us to care for the poor, sick and infirm. It is a fundamental test of righteous government. If the Conservatives were pursuing a truly compassionate agenda, it would be wholly in order for them to sustain the level of benefits paid to the weakest and poorest. While few people have much sympathy for the sick-note-culture of the 'shirkers' and 'skivers', the decision to cut the financial support paid to households with young children is wholly unacceptable and makes a mockery of claim that 'we're all in it together'.
What kind of 'Compassionate Conservatism' enacts provisions which will lead to a couple with two children, earning £26,000 a year, losing more than £12 a week while 8000 millionaires receive a tax cut worth an average of over £2000 per week? Some 2.5 million families, where no one is in work, will be £215 per annum worse off.
It beggars belief that children are not protected from the one-per-cent uprating, for they are our future. If our elected politicians appear to forget that, it is for our selected bishops and archbishops to speak truth to power.