Time to end ‘war on welfare’, says Christian think-tank

LONDON & EDINBURGH, February 27th, 2014: Politicians on all sides must act to stop disabled, sick and vulnerable people being scapegoated and sidelined in debates about welfare and benefits, says Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

The comment comes as the House of Commons today discusses a call from over one hundred thousand members of the public for a proper assessment of a whole raft of welfare changes brought in by the coalition government.

The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, NGOs and policy specialists are among those supporting the WOW Petition Campaign call for a major re-think on welfare and a cumulative impact assessment of cuts and reforms which will see disabled people lose some £28.3 billion worth of support by 2017/18 (Demos statistic).

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow commented: “Welfare is about what kind of society we are building for everyone, not just for a few. The reason church leaders and others have criticised the massively damaging impact of current austerity policies on the most vulnerable is that the litmus test of social and economic policy should be its impact on those in most need.

“We need reform that strengthens rather than weakens the welfare of all. The evidence is that this is not happening. Instead, popular myths and lies are being used to blame poor, sick, disabled and marginalised people for an economic crisis they did not create, and which will not be solved by targeting and scapegoating the most vulnerable.

“The WOW Petition is a grassroots initiative to make welfare changes accountable to the public, to those in need, and to a proper assessment of the impact of policies. The parliamentary debate secured by ordinary people is just one stage in the process of making that happen. The wisdom and experience of disabled and sick people and carers themselves should be the engine of reform and policy-making.”

The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, The Very Rev David Ison, commented: "The way a society treats its weakest members is a measure of what it truly believes in. Last year a coalition of charities working with the disabled in Britain published a report which concluded that ‘The picture is shocking, but simple: an ever-rising eligibility threshold is resulting in a drastically poor quality of life for tens of thousands of disabled people.’

“Disability is something nearly all of us will experience at some time in our lives, through no fault of our own: do we want it to result in a drastically poor quality of life for us, or for our loved ones, or for our neighbours in the community?

“The WOW petition asks for thorough investigation and practical policies which will give confidence to all of us, disabled and able-bodied, that our wealthy society will care properly for those in greatest need. Isn't that something worth voting for?” asked the Dean.

Ekklesia will be following up the WOW debate with a paper on ‘Thinking Differently About Welfare’, which will look at how the current debate can be reframed and why faith groups should work with others to achieve this.

ENDS

Notes for editors:

[1] Founded in 2001 and based in London and Edinburgh, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world. It is an independent, ecumenical think-tank which is not aligned to any particular denomination, but draws particular inspiration from the Anabaptist and ‘peace church’ traditions. More information here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/about

[2] The WOW Petition Campaign, backed by Ekklesia and others, can be found here: http://wowpetition.com The initiative secured over 104,000 public signatures on an e-government petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of current welfare reform policies.

[3] A full background paper on the lobby and parliamentary debate is available here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/wow_debate.pdf

[4] More from Ekklesia (comment, analysis and news briefing) on the WOW initiative: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/WOWpetition

[5] For further comment: Simon Barrow, co-director, Ekklesia: Tel. 07850 120413. Email: simon.barrow@ekklesia.co.uk Twitter: @simonbarrow