Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Photo Reuters
In his first major political move since taking office,
the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans has attacked
Britain's government over welfare, saying further cuts to
welfare benefits would drive thousands of children into
By wading into one of the most emotive debates in Britain,
the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, underscored
his resolve to take an active stance on social issues where
he believes the Church should have more say.
In a statement on Sunday, Welby said the government's planned
changes to the benefit system would hit many families hard at
a time when Britain already risks tipping into its third
recession in four years.
"Politicians have a clear choice. By protecting children from
the effects of this bill, they can help fulfil their
commitment to end child poverty," Welby said in a statement.
"These changes will mean it is children and families who will
pay the price for high inflation, rather than the
government," he said, adding the move could push 200,000
children into poverty.
Welby was named in November after his predecessor, Rowan
Williams, resigned after a decade in the job. He is due to be
enthroned formally at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21.
Lawmakers are due to debate changes to the welfare bill later
in the month, including proposed changes that could cap
benefit rises at 1 percent a year until 2016.
Government officials say the changes are needed as part of
efforts to cut the deficit, ease the burden on tax payers and
make welfare costs sustainable in the longer term.
Iain Duncan Smith, a government minister leading the shake-up
of the welfare system, defended the proposed changes.
"This is about fairness. People who are paying taxes, working
very hard, have hardly seen any increases in their salary,
and yet under the last government, the welfare bill rose by
some 60 percent to £200 billion," he told ITV News.
"That means they had to pay for that under their taxes, which
is simply not fair. That same system trapped huge numbers in
dependency, dependent on the state, unable, unwilling to
work. What is either moral or fair about that? That is my
challenge to the bishops."
The opposition, which has long attacked the ruling coalition
over its austerity programme, seized on Welby's remarks to
make their own point heard. Opposition politician and shadow
home secretary Yvette Cooper said Welby was right.
"They should just have the benefits go forward linked to
inflation this year," she told the BBC. "You could do it by
paying for it by restricting pensions tax relief on the very
highest earners. That would be a fair way to help everybody."
In an open letter published separately in Britain's Sunday
Telegraph newspaper, 43 Anglican bishops said the cuts would
have a "deeply disproportionate" effect on children.
"A third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but
nearly nine out of 10 families with children will be hit," it
said. "Children and families are already being hit hard by
cuts to support ... They cannot afford this further hardship