Church leaders want government apology for misrepresenting the poor

By staff writers
October 28, 2013

Senior British Christian leaders have criticised Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, for failing to apologise on behalf of the government for misrepresenting the poor.

Twelve senior representatives from Churches and Christian organisations in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have written to Lord Freud after he failed to affirm that steps would be taken in order to ensure that the poor would no longer be misrepresented by the government.

“We do not wish to live in a society where personal responsibility is demanded of the vulnerable but is not required of those who exercise power,” their letter states.

“All people are valued creations of God who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. An essential component of this is to be spoken of truthfully, including benefit claimants.”

The Prime Minister David Cameron asked Lord Freud to reply on his behalf to a letter from ten Church denominations based in all four nations of the UK, as well as two major national ecumenical charities.

The Church leaders’ letter, dated 6 June 2013, expressed concern over government ministers making demonstrably untrue statements stigmatising the most vulnerable in society.

However, Lord Freud’s reply “neither attempts to answer nor even mentions any of the points raised” in their letter. Church leaders criticised this neglect as “both surprising and disappointing”.

April 2013 saw some of the most controversial and wide ranging changes to the benefit system in a generation. In March, the Baptist Union of Great Britain; the Church of Scotland; the Methodist Church in Britain and the United Reformed Church launched a report – The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty – confronting the most common myths told about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits as well as highlighting some of the most abused statistics.

The report was also published on the Christian think-tank Ekklesia's website, and commended widely in the media.

Simon Barrow, Ekklesia's co-director, commented today: "We welcome the churches' determination to hold government and public authorities to account for the impact of their policies on the poorest and most vulnerable. Equally welcome and important are initiatives on social housing, credit unions and welfare which look at how the churches' resources can be used to back its message.

"Our own research and documentation of the treatment of those living at the sharp end is indicative of the harm being done to families and communities by approaches to welfare and benefits based on suspicion, punishment and stigmatisation, rather than community building and the addressing of manifest and damaging inequalities.

"We are also backing the call for a comprehensive, cumulative, independent impact assessment of welfare changes, especially those impacting disabled people and the sick."

* Truth and lies about poverty, benefits and welfare. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18086

* Petition for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare policies: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

* Ekklesia Submission to DWP consultation on PIP mobility criteria. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18737

* Church must stand form on social housing, by Jonathan Bartley. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19321

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