The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned Government plans to change the benefits system, saying it will have a “deeply disproportionate” effect on children.
The Most Rev Justin Welby has warned that “children and families will pay the price” if plans to change the system go ahead in their current form, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
The open letter was backed by 43 bishops, including the Most Rev Welby and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.
The newspaper said that the move would come as a blow to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is attempting to steer the reforms through Parliament.
He has said the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which will cap benefit rises at 1% a year until 2016, is needed to help get spending “back under control” and create a fairer deal for taxpayers.
But the archbishop, who will be formally enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21, said the legislation would remove the protection given to families against the rising cost of living and could push 200,000 children into poverty.
He said: “As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish.
“It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing.
“The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation.
“These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the Government.”
He added: “Politicians have a clear choice. By protecting children from the effects of this Bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty.”
The newspaper said that the archbishop’s intervention signals his willingness to enter political debates on issues he believes are the church’s responsibility to address, a policy for which his predecessor, Dr Rowan Williams, faced criticism.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “In difficult economic times we’ve protected the incomes of pensioners and disabled people, and most working age benefits will continue to increase 1%. This was a tough decision but it’s one that will help keep the welfare bill sustainable in the longer term.
“By raising the personal allowance threshold, we’ve lifted two million people out of tax altogether, clearly benefiting people on a low income.”