A leading Christian anti-poverty charity has warned the coalition government that its determination to cut welfare spending could have disastrous - even fatal - effects on the poorest people in the UK.
Two articles published in the British Medical Journal this week highlight the false logic of ring-fencing the health budget whilst singling out the welfare budget for swingeing spending cuts – since social welfare spending has a bigger effect on the population’s health than money spent on the NHS.
Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty National Coordinator, declared: “Politicians must be extremely wary of fuelling a populist clamour for ever greater cuts in the welfare budget. The tabloid newspapers are all too willing to demonise everyone on benefits as lazy, feckless scroungers – even though this flies in the face of the facts."
He continued: "The benefits system provides an essential safety net for millions of people – in and out of work - are struggling to stay fit, healthy and make ends meet through the recession. As the BMJ has shown, it is essential for the nation’s health and well-being, that welfare spending is safeguarded.”
The research challenges the growing clamour for deeper cuts to the welfare budget. The Department for Work and Pension’s budget was singled out for the biggest cuts in Tuesday’s budget – with cuts totaling over £11 billion - almost 25 per cent of the total cuts announced by the Chancellor.
Yet on Wednesday 23 June, the Daily Express newspaper welcomed the Budget, saying that George Osborne has "unleashed a Budget earthquake" to give "scroungers a kicking."
David Stuckler and colleagues show that radical cuts in social welfare spending to reduce budget deficits could cost lives as well as causing economic pain. Based on their analysis of data on social welfare spending in 20 European countries from 1980 to 2005, they argue that rather than protecting health care spending from budget cuts, governments should protect social welfare spending because it has a bigger effect on population health.
Meanwhile, Joan Benach and colleagues have said that fair employment practices - freedom from coercion, job security, a fair income, job protection, respect, and dignity - are not "nice to haves" in hard economic times. They have been shown to narrow the gap in health inequalities and to improve a nation’s overall health.
Church Action on Poverty is a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. It works in partnership with churches and with people in poverty themselves to find solutions locally, nationally and globally.
To read the BMJ articles visit http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/340/jun23_2/c3387
Church Action on Poverty: www.church-poverty.org.uk