Archbishop of Canterbury takes up the cudgels

Justin WelbyThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stepped up what the Daily Mail described as his ‘war of words with the government over welfare’ today, challenging Government ministers over food banks and their derogatory language about people in poverty.

Dr Welby’s riposte to Lord Freud on foodbanks

Dr Welby’s comments came in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning (9 July).  He specifically challenged Government minister Lord Freud who suggested last week there was an “almost infinite demand” for the free food supplied by food banks.

The Archbishop questioned where Lord Freud “got his information from” on food bank use after the welfare reform minister was reported last week as saying: “It is difficult to know which came first – supply or demand.”  Mr Welby highlighted Church analysis that showed that in Durham 35 per cent of people using food banks were referred by social services because they were entitled to benefit that had not been paid.

He added: “Maybe he’s got different figures but those were certainly the figures we kept in the churches because we don’t do it by ourselves, we work with a number of other churches. We are very strict about our statistics and we don’t just hand out food, you have to be referred, usually by social services.”

Dr Welby’s comments only serve to strengthen the pressure for an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry to examine whether changes in the welfare system are at least in part driving the huge surge in demand for food aid – following Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam’s report Walking the Breadline, which found that half a million people having had to turn to foodbanks to feed themselves in the past year.

Archbishop joins debate on truth and lies about poverty

In remarks which are already making the headlines, Dr Welby also strongly criticised Minister for using “completely unfair and untrue” language to stigmatize people in poverty.

“We have to be very careful about how we talk about people across a range of those who receive benefits. You can use derogatory terms. It is just important not to do so. There is a danger from time to time that people are categorised, that all people on benefits are seen as scroungers, and that’s clearly completely unfair and untrue.”

As the news headlines are already reporting it:

Don’t call people on benefits ‘scroungers’, Archbishop of Canterbury warns ministers (Daily Mail)

‘They’re not all scroungers!’: Welby reignites row with Government over benefit claimants (Express)

The Archbishop’s comments echo the findings of the Truth and Lies about Poverty report published by the Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland earlier this year – and Church Action on Poverty’s own report The Blame Game, produced for Poverty and Homelessness Action Week in January.

Dr Welby’s comments today follow on from a succession of Church leaders from across the denominations who have now gone on record in calling on politicians from across the political spectrum to temper their language, and to focus on the real challenge of protecting the poorest and most vulnerable from the increasingly severe impacts of austerity and economic crisis.

Only last month, an alliance of Churches representing Christians from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (and including yours truly) wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an apology on behalf of the Government for misrepresenting the poor.  Church leaders, including Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, and Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford, pointed out that in recent weeks senior members of the Government have given out misleading and inaccurate information about people on benefits. Outlining the inaccuracies, they asked for them to be corrected and for an apology to be offered to those who were misrepresented.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, speaking at a conference on the ‘Catholic Response to the Poverty Crisis’ also in June, echoed the concerns raised in our Walking the Breadline report, that Government cuts had undermined the basic principle that the state should provide a safety net to prevent hunger and destitution.

“A social safety net that leaves people without life’s necessities is not worthy of the name.”

All this amounts to a powerful and increasingly united voice from the Churches:  The question is – are the politicians listening?


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Archbishop of Canterbury takes up the cudgels

  1. niallcooper says:

    Reblogged this on A Fair Say.

  2. Michael says:

    At last an Archbishop who stands up for those in need. Your lead is very much appreciated.

  3. greg says:

    Better late than never

  4. Jesus said, “…the poor you will always have with you…” It is no reason to put them down, but it is a fact. The way the poor should be cared for is having the church care for them. In the Old Testament they collected ALMS from those in the “church” and not from the government. The church needs to do their job. After the church has done all it can, then perhaps the government can, out of their surplus, give to the poor. But I favor the church rising to the challenge and doing all the possible out of a heart of generosity. Let 2 Corinthians 9 be their guide as well as Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-5:5. This will solve many problems.

    This does not solve insensitivity or coarseness of speech which can only be cured by kindness, gentleness, humility of heart and mind, and respect for the individual. Then we can make progress in solving the problems for the needy.

    • niallcooper says:

      Thanks Ron, but in the UK the churches were at the forefront not only of serving the poorest but also of making the case for establishing a properly funded welfare safely net to ensure that no one who fell on hard times should end up destitute or hungry. As Christians we should remain true to our prophetic calling to speak up for the poorest by challenging injustice. As Jim Wallis says, the churches task is not simply to pull people out of the river, but to ask who or what is throwing them in in the firstplace.

    • suzubick says:

      Alas, the church is made up of people, and how many people are willing to give of their resources for the sake of the poor? How many Christians tithe? How many Christians give alms over and above the tithe? Where is the church to get the money to feed the hungry? Should the church feed non-Christian people who are hungry?

      • niallcooper says:

        Many churches are already stepping up to the plate in terms of running foodbanks – which are overwhelmingly open to people of all faiths and none. The challenge is that the scale of the crisis risks overwhelming the amount that can be done by charitable voluntary social action alone. For Church Action on Poverty, this is why it is also important not just to help pull people out of the river, but to go upstream and to ask who or what is throwing them in in the first place.

  5. avrilhj says:

    Reblogged this on Rev Doc Geek and commented:
    The churches are speaking up in the UK.

  6. Pingback: Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body

  7. Pingback: Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body - Government Tenders, Government News and Information - Government Online

  8. Clare says:

    Thank you Niall, “Truth and Lies about Poverty” could do with more air time in pulpits around the country. The suspicious portrayal of “the poor” and those who access food banks by the media and politicians filters down to the local level all too quickly. It feeds the stigma that lays dormant in many a church and community and makes the prophetic task of the local church all the more necessary and urgent.

  9. Pingback: Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body | Treilo News

  10. Pingback: Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body | Newslair

  11. Pingback: Lanka Frontline Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body » Lanka Frontline

  12. Pingback: Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body « News in Briefs

  13. Pingback: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to sue David Cameron | Tea and Cake or Death?

  14. Pingback: Increasing numbers turning to foodbanks since April welfare reforms | Niall Cooper

  15. caleb says:

    You did the a great perform writing as well as revealing the hidden advantageous features of

  16. Pingback: MoneyTimes |

  17. Pingback: Latest News Headlines - Huge rise in use of food banks since welfare changes, says aid body

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s