Social security sanctions, in which people not in paid work have benefit payments cut or removed for up to three years, have reached record levels. 27 Anglican bishops and other church leaders have condemned UK government benefit cuts and failures which mean that many go hungry.
Much has been written about how determined the government is to set the working poor against the workless poor. But less attention has been paid to the skill with which Conservative politicians are pushing the buttons of Middle England.
UK chancellor George Osborne is using divide-and-rule tactics to try to push through further cuts of around £25 billion over two years by 2017-18. This includes £12 billion in social security reductions. The poorest will be worst affected but, if he gets his way, many others currently struggling to cope with sharply rising prices and rents will be hit.
Jenny (not her real name) describes herself as “a medicated production”. In preparation for our meeting, she had recourse to a morphine patch. She explained that she always tried to “dress nicely and take care with my hair and make up when I go out or meet people.”
Benefit cheats will face sentences of up to 10 years, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC has threatened. While punishing fraud by claimants – and frightening people who are honest but fear being targeted – will be popular with parts of the public, the lack of a sense of proportion is worrying.
Like many other church assemblies around this time, the Church of England General Synod in July 2013 faces several controversial and challenging issues. As Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recognised, both openness and boldness are needed.