More than 40 Church of England bishops have signed an open letter to the government in the media criticising its Benefits Uprating Bill as an attack on the poorest.
The move comes as the Bill returns to the House of Lords this week, and has been backed by new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
It follows concerted campaigning by British Free Churches (the Methodists, Baptists and United Reformed Church), along with the Church of Scotland, alongside Church Action on Poverty, against the multiple misrepresentations in the media and by coalition representatives on issues of poverty, welfare and benefits - which critics say have deformed debate about wealth and poverty in the UK.
The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Free Churches recently published a hard-hitting, factual report entitled The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18086).
The government claims that the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill is an 'adjustment', and that everyone must pay for the country's financial crisis.
But the bishops point out, as welfare campaigners have been doing for some time, that the 'uprating' is actually a cap, which will amount to a cut for many of the most vulnerable, and hits the poorest worst.
The bishops' letter, published in the conservative Sunday Telegraph newspaper today (10 March 2013), reads as follows:
"Next week, members of the House of Lords will debate the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.
"The Bill will mean that for each of the next three years, most financial support for families will increase by no more than one per cent, regardless of how much prices rise.
"This is a change that will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty. A third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but nearly nine out of 10 families with children will be hit.
"These are children and families from all walks of life. The Children’s Society calculates that a single parent with two children, working on an average wage as a nurse would lose £424 a year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a year by 2015.
"However, the change will hit the poorest the hardest. About 60 per cent of the savings from the uprating cap will come from the poorest third of households. Only three per cent will come from the wealthiest third.
"If prices rise faster than expected, children and families will no longer have any protection against this. This transfers the risk of high inflation rates from the Treasury to children and families, which is unacceptable.
"Children and families are already being hit hard by cuts to support, including those to tax credits, maternity benefits, and help with housing costs. They cannot afford this further hardship penalty. We are calling on the House of Lords to take action to protect children from the impact of this Bill."
It has been signed by:
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