Spending cuts hitting the poorest in areas like North East England are “a profound sickness at the heart of our society,” a senior church leader says.
The Anglican Dean of Newcastle, the Very Rev Chris Dalliston, made the remark to council leaders, bishops and MPs gathered by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones - who has also called on the government to think again about its cuts.
“It seems North is being pitted against South,” declared Dalliston. He described the situation brought about by cuts as “urban against suburban and rural, workers against unemployed, deserving against ‘undeserving’ poor”.
The Dean of Newcastle believes church leaders on Tyneside are seeing signs of society fragmenting as austerity takes hold.
“We will continue to call for a more just distribution of the considerable resources that still exist,” he adds, continuing: “The health of a nation is revealed most clearly by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. If that is true, and I’m sure it is, then there is a profound sickness at the heart of our society.
“For some of us in the North East, a region that seems to have struggled more than many down the years, that unfairness is compounded by our relative geographic isolation and by the modest scale of our populations ... there is nowhere else for people to go, and our infrastructure is arguably less resilient.
“At a local level there is a case for a robust debate about how and where cuts are to be made, but the danger that brings is that the bigger picture is obscured in the arguments about this library, that leisure centre, this neighbourhood initiative.
“It might be easy to indulge in a victim mentality or blame culture. We need to try to maintain both a principled level of debate and a high degree of transparency,” concludes the Dean.
Meanwhile Newcastle's council leader, Labour's Nick Forbes, who has been accused of by unions and anti-cuts campaigners of accommodating too much to the coalition government, declared: “At times of national economic crisis we need to strengthen, not undermine, our commitment as a nation to fairness.
“Newcastle and Liverpool are among many cities to have placed fairness at the centre of their response to the crisis we find ourselves in. But we cannot deliver fairness within our cities when our cities are treated so unfairly by [central] Government.
“Political decisions, allocating £26 billion in public spending, are hidden behind a complex and confusing financial system, understood by a handful of people.
“That’s why I have called for an independent process – jointly commissioned by central and local government – to re-establish confidence in a broken system we can no longer trust.
“In Newcastle we have had to propose cuts of £90 million over three years. The Autumn Statement has loaded a further £10 million. There is nowhere else for people to go, and our infrastructure is arguably less resilient,” he concludes.