Quakers in Britain oppose 'unfair' government cuts

By staff writers
5 Oct 2011

Quakers in Britain have joined millions of others across the country in objecting to unjust government cuts that hit the most vulnerable.

In a statement issued on 4 October 2011, the Religious Society of Friends says that some cuts in local and national government spending are inevitable, but that these should not be made at the expense of those who are are unable to work.

Other anti-cuts campaigners and economists argue that there is nothing "inevitable" about deep public spending cuts, and that far from addressing a sovereign debt crisis they contribute to recessionary pressures, while simultaneously attacking the poorest, failing to stimulate sustainable growth and coming nowhere near the headline borrowing they are supposed to tackle.

Quakers will push for a wiser use of public money, while opposing expenditure on war, they declare.

The decision, made at Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers’ representative body, draws on the research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their work with the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The research estimates a rise in relative poverty of about 800,000 adults and a rise in absolute poverty of 900,000 between 2010-2011 and 2013-14.

Believing there is something sacred in everyone drives Quakers to work for equality which implies a concern for any measures that hit the poorest hardest. The meeting agreed, “We are distressed that the UK has now a greater disparity in incomes than at any time since the 1930s.”

The Welfare Reform Bill provides for the introduction of a 'Universal Credit' to replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for people of working age, starting from 2013.

The Government is seeking to cap benefits payments at £500 per week, regardless of need or family size. Quakers say that may be an incentive for families to divide into separate households.

Quakers will challenge the proposed change to the mobility element of the Disability Living allowance, a change which concerns Esther Leighton, disabled students’ officer for Cambridge University.

She told the meeting at Friends House in London that she objects to the media describing disabled people like herself as “scroungers or weak”. She says “when you are cutting assistance to people to work you can’t call them scroungers for not helping them to work”.

Partially-sighted Joy Croft implored the decision-makers in Government to think of the effect of the cuts. “It is such a visual world,” she said. “I do everything I can to be independent but I fear what may happen if they reassess the Disability Living Allowance.”

The leader of Islington Council, Labour Councillor Catherine West, a Quaker, gave an insight into the political scene where decisions have to be made on public spending. She told the meeting the council has tackled inequality through a Fairness Commission co-chaired by co-author of The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson. The London borough is segregated in almost every way imaginable, from income, to health and educational achievement. The Commission’s report establishes a Fairness Framework through which all future policies and strategies will be assessed.

The Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, Michael Bartlet, encouraged Quakers to lobby decision-makers.

He declared: “The Welfare Reform Bill will cause most hardship to those who have least. In a shrinking labour market it will become harder for disabled people to find help for mobility to access jobs on a level playing field. It is a cruel irony that a family cap on benefits, will find a perverse incentive for couples to move into separate households. Our Quaker commitment to equality impels us to ask that scarce national economic resources are dedicated to reducing inequality.”

The meeting suggested Quaker based work in Quaker Social Action and Law For All, are models of working which could be established more widely.

Law For All was the largest not-for-profit provider of legal services in West London, but faced with government cuts to legal aid services, in July this year, was placed into the hands of administrators.

A registered charity, Law For All was established in 1994 to provide high quality advice and casework in social welfare law to poor and vulnerable people.

In reaching their conclusions, Quakers have listened to people who fear being affected by the Government’s proposed cuts in benefits, and to the leader of a London borough council committed to working through a Fairness Commission.

[Ekk/3]

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