Kirk wants MPs to support Welfare Reform Bill amendments

By staff writers
31 Jan 2012

The Church of Scotland has joined leading charities, faith groups and trade unions in urging Scottish MPs to vote to uphold the Lords amendments to the much-criticised Welfare Reform Bill this week.

The Presbyterian Kirk, Scotland's largest Christian denomination along with the Catholics, has added its voice through its Church and Society Council to other major Protestant bodies wanting to halt cuts that will hit the most vulnerable.

The Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, is among senior Catholics highlighting concern for many thousands of families who will be affected by the Westminster government's welfare changes, which also effect Scotland even though the population there voted strongly against the coalition partners.

The Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform (SCWR), an umbrella body of more than 60 organisations, has called on Scottish politicians to ratify the six amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill in the Commons on Wednesday 1 February 2012.

The SCWR, with members including the Scottish Trades’ Union Congress, Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, and the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, warned a reversal of the amendments would have dire consequences.

Their letter declares: “We have been pleased six very reasonable and practical amendments have been made in the Lords which we believe will provide important safeguards to the wellbeing of many of your constituents.

“The bill return[s] to the Commons ... and you will have a vital opportunity to ensure that these six important amendments are upheld. Reversal would have a terrible impact on many of your constituents.”

Peers voted by 270 to 128 to prevent the government charging single parents for seeking help from the Child Support Agency (CSA) in an amendment put by leading Scottish Free Church member, Lord Mackay.

Church of England bishops also backed successful Lords amendments on disability and put forward a successful amendment themselves calling for child benefit to be exempted from the welfare cap.

Methodist, Baptist, URC and Quaker representatives in Britain have gone further and have called for the scrapping of the cap altogether.

Critics point out that the government's overall cap is illogical, because all the benefits included in it are already capped.

"What the government is doing amounts to top-slicing which will have unfair and arbitrary outcomes," commented Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which is also presenting evidence to parliamentarians on the inadequacy of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), has promoted the Spartacus Report on Disability Living Allowance consultation and changes, and has joined charities in calling for a legislative pause to improve and alter the "deeply flawed" Welfare Reform Bill.

Church Action on Poverty (CAP), the ecumenical NGO that is a member in association with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, is also urging supporters, churchgoers and members of the public to write to MPs to encourage them to support WRB amendments.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who last week teamed up with the Daily Mail to defend welfare cuts and attack other church figures, now finds himself isolated on the issue. His stance has been condemned by Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens, who coordinates the Church of England bishops in the House of Lords.

* Why the churches disagree with the benefit cap - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16209

* Spartacus Report (#spartacusreport) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport

* Pat's Petition (Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families): http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

* 38 Degrees action in disability and welfare cuts - http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/cuts-to-support-email-mp

* Church Action on Poverty lobby of MPs: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/its-time-to-close-the-gap/wrbaction/

[Ekk/3]

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