Rowan Williams criticises Iain Duncan Smith on foodbanks

By staff writers
December 25, 2013

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has responded strongly to a “disturbing attack” on a foodbank charity by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

Mr Duncan Smith, who critics say is pursuing policies that damage and disadvantage the most vulnerable people in Britain, recently accused a Christian charity, the Trussell Trust, of being "politically-motivated" and "scaremongering" by citing welfare changes as being among the reasons for the dramatic rise in the number of people being helped through food banks.

Dr Williams, who is a patron of the Cambridge City Foodbank that supported 2,390 people in crisis in 2012, says that the former Conservative leader’s “extraordinary comments” amount to an “attack [on] the motives of hard-pressed volunteers and generous donors”.

Mr Duncan Smith's remarks are “disturbing, not least because they poison the wells for those trying to raise and maintain resources”, who are attempting to help people including those “left stranded by the benefit system”, says the former archbishop.

He told the Cambridge News newspaper: “It is not political point-scoring to say that these are the realities of life in Britain today for a shockingly large number of ordinary people – not scroungers, not idlers - but men and women desperate to keep afloat and to look after their children or their elderly relatives.

“The real scaremongering is the attempt to deny the seriousness of the situation by – in effect – accusing those seeking to help of dishonesty as to their motivation.”

“I would urge the Secretary of State to visit any foodbank he chooses and to listen to the accounts of what is actually happening.

“It may not change his policies but it might at least persuade him not to attack the motives of hard-pressed volunteers and generous donors.”

Dr Williams added: “All who come to the foodbank have their needs independently assessed. All the people I speak to who use the foodbank will say that they never expected to find themselves in this situation and would rather not have to turn to it for help.

“Many are 'working poor', whose low incomes mean they have no flexibility to deal with unexpected crises such as family sickness. Many are confused and left stranded by the benefit system.”

Mr Duncan Smith has continued to refuse to meet the Trussell Trust and others who criticise his policies.

This Christmas, Church Action on Poverty (CAP) has hit the headlines with its 'Britain Isn't Eating' poster campaign, which is said to have "infuriated" the embattled Work and Pensions Secretary.

CAP, Oxfam and other agencies dealing with food poverty have produced plenty of research and evidence on the plight faced by many poor families as a result of austerity and cuts. But the government, they say, is simply refusing to listen.

Dr Rowan Williams is now Master of Magdalen College Cambridge and chair of Christian Aid, as well as a supporter of the Cambridge foodbank.

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