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article imageUK Church leaders condemn welfare changes of Cameron government

By Ken Hanly     Mar 4, 2014 in Politics
London - UK religious leaders have criticized the Cameron coalition government welfare cuts. Malnutrition and lack of food for families is on the rise in the UK as aid programs are cut back.
A total of 43 religious leaders signed a letter to the Daily Mirror newspaper that denounced the "reforms" to the welfare system. The letter was signed by 27 of 59 of the Church of England bishops and 16 representatives of other Christian denominations. The letter notes that 5,500 were admitted to hospital in the UK last year for malnutrition and that 20 percent of mothers skipped their own meals to better feed their children. The letter follows comments by the leader of the Roman Catholic church that welfare reforms were a disgrace as the welfare system undergoes a radical shake-up.
The letter is just part of a larger campaign called End Hunger Fast. Spokesperson Keith Hebden said: "One person malnourished because of poverty when they don't have to be is a crisis in itself, but to have people in these numbers is serious and we need to do something about it." The demand for emergency food aid in the UK has soared. Trussel Trust the largest foodbank operator in the UK fed only 26,000 people in 2008 but forecasts it will need to help one million people this year.
In a letter to the British Medical Journal last December Dr. Taylor-Robinson from the University of Liverpool together with six other public health experts claimed that there was a rising incidence of malnutrition that sufficient to show that there was a "public health emergency" linked to welfare reforms. He said: "Broadly speaking, there is a suggestion that a lot of families, especially poor families, are finding it difficult - and these are the families most at risk of malnutrition."
The rise in cases of malnutrition was striking in parts of northern England. Jim Cunningham, Labour MP for Coventry South said: "The rise in the levels of malnutrition cases treated in hospitals in the UK is extremely concerning. It is of course difficult to point to simple explanations, but the role of poverty in causing malnutrition must not be overlooked."
While church leaders criticize the reforms, Nick Clegg accused the Roman Catholic Church of exaggerating the impact of the reforms. Prime Minister David Cameron turned the tables on the critics by suggesting that he is on a "moral mission" to end welfare dependency. However Clegg and Cameron also disagree on the issue: Nick Clegg said it was wrong for the poorest to bear the brunt of the next phase of austerity, but Osborne is convinced his plan will be politically popular.
Government spokespeople suggest that the growth in food banks is supply-led. Greater awareness of food banks and availability of free food creates demand. The work and pensions secretary, Ian Smith, echoed this same position in parliament. However, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just released a report by the Food Ethics Council together with the University of Warwick that produces evidence that the rise in the use of food banks is not supply-led. The report was actually given to the government last June.
Activists complain that the government is increasingly using "sanctioning" to dock or stop benefit payments. In the past year 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped for various reasons such as missing a meeting with a benefits official or turning up late. Ironically a think tank set up by the Conservatives found that many people have had their benefits stopped when they shouldn't have been:"Up to 68,000 people are wrongly having benefits stopped every year and the blunders are fuelling rising demand at food banks, says a think tank set up by TORIES. "
Charities complain that the system and rules create a culture of fear and set unrealistic work targets. Hebden remarked: "You can't punish people into prosperity. It doesn't work or make any sense."
However Cameron may be correct — the general public may be in favor of the reforms since they believe that people who receive benefits are undeserving. Channel 4 in the UK recently had a series called Benefits Street that depicts in detail the lives of some people on benefits.
Critics point out that the documentary shows people who are not representative of those who receive benefits: Benefits Street paints a distorted picture. In the real world almost half the residents in such a place would be pensioners, because they are recipients of nigh-on 50 percent of the welfare budget. Another 20 percent of those followed by the TV cameras would be people in work but relying on state benefits such as family and income support and tax credits to help them make ends meet.
Many people have the idea that benefit payments are spiraling out of control. The welfare budget in the UK rose from the 1940s and peaked in the 1980s. From 1997 to 2010 the budget as percentage of GDP actually fell. Benefits Street gives an unflattering picture of some recipients confirming some people's views that recipients are undeserving. However, total fraud in the system is about one percent: Despite the stories of people fleecing the state the latest estimates suggest that just over £1bn, or just under 1% of the budget, was lost through fraud in 2011-12. That compares to (almost certainly conservative) estimates of £32bn lost in unpaid tax in the same year. I include Part 2 of Benefit Streets as a You Tube video.
More about David Cameron, uk welfare reform, church of england
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