Methodists have joined a range of charities in expressing concern for lone parents and people receiving incapacity benefits following the publication of the British government's Welfare Reform White Paper on 10 December 2008.
While the proposals offer assistance to help some of the five million people who claim benefits find employment, the Church has warned that the proposed bill would impose new conditions and potential sanctions to a wide range of vulnerable people.
Paul Morrison, Methodist Church policy adviser in this area, declared: “Research from the Rowntree Foundation and others shows that those who claim benefits exist on inadequate incomes and want opportunities to work."
He continued: "Although a small minority may abuse the system, a package containing a focus on coercion risks stigmatising the poorest and, at worst, not treating the benefit claimants with the dignity they deserve.”
Morrison explained: “The Church believes that those who are unable to work because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities are valued and equal members of society and deserve a benefit system which acknowledges this.”
Charities and NGOs working with the poorest and most vulnerable people in society are concerned that the Labour government, with the backing of the Conservatives, are using the recession as a time to target those who have least with their reforming zeal.
At the same time, the government stands accused of failing to take adequate action in relation to tax avoidance by the richest members of society, and of presiding over a continuing gap between the vert poor and the very rich.
The Methodist Church is one of the largest Christian churches in Britain, with nearly 265,000 members and regular contact with over 800,000 people. It has around 5,800 local churches, and also maintains links with other Methodist churches totalling a worldwide membership of 70 million.