Thirty church leaders in the North East of England have written an open letter to the Prime Minister warning that spending cuts and welfare changes are having a “scandalous” impact on communities in their region.
The letter, signed by church figures from Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed, Baptist, Moravian, Quaker, Lutheran, Salvationist, Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions, was sent before the chancellor's recent autumn budget statement, but pertains directly to the policies and concerns it raises -- including further welfare cuts hitting the poorest in society.
The letter says: “As Church leaders in the North of England, we would like to express our concern over the way that cuts in public spending and reforms to the welfare system are beginning to play out in the communities we serve. We are disturbed that the political rhetoric that is increasingly used of benefits claimants, ‘scrounger’ and ‘feckless’ to name but two, stigmatises welfare in such a way that those who are in genuine need become reluctant to make claims, to the detriment of themselves, their families and the communities in which they live.”
The church leaders urge the Prime Minister to achieve a better balance in the UK economy between the South and the North, "to enable people in northern communities to deploy and benefit from their skills, thereby enhancing the productivity of the country as a whole.”
They also express support for those aspects of Universal Credit "which make a genuine attempt to address longer term problems within the welfare system that can act as a deterrent to work", but add, "However we would also wish to draw your attention to the need to ensure that full employment remains a policy aim for the Government in support of a system that sees welfare as transistional assistance for those that are capable of work".
The letter has been coordinated by the ecumenical Churches' Regional Commission in the North East (CRCNE), and also commends to the Prime Minister and the government the CRCNE publication "Am I My Brother's Keeper", which gives an informed and detailed overview of the impact of spending cuts and other economic measures on the region.
The church leaders also affirm the importance of the welfare state, just employment and fair taxation.
The list of signatories include the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford (Anglican), Mgr John Wilson, for the Catholic Diocese of Leeds, the Rev Dr Roger Walton, Methodist Chairman of West Yorkshire District, Bishop Tony Parry, from the New Testament Church of God in Bradford, the Rt Rev John Packer, Anglican Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rev Jane Day, Regional Minister (Mission) for Yorkshire Baptist Association, the Rev Kenneth Evans, chairman of the Yorkshire District Conference of the Moravian Church and the Rev Kevin Watson, Yorkshire Synod Moderator of the United Reformed Church.
Bishop Nick Baines commented last week: “The Government needs to know how its proposals are impacting on people who live outside London; they're not just dealing with figures in Whitehall, this is having an impact on people every day and the poorest are paying the highest. In Bradford we have 38,000 children living below the poverty line. Welfare reforms mean the poorest people are getting poorer, while the richest people are getting richer – and that’s a scandal.”
* Read the letter in full (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/churchleadersnortheast.pdf 
* More on the Churches' Regional Commission in the North East (CRCNE) - http://www.northeastchurches.org.uk/