Eighteen bishops, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, have demanded that the coalition rewrite their controversial plan to place a £500-a-week benefit cap on families.
The bishops urge MPs to back a series of amendments to the bill, which is due to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow. In an open letter to the Observer, they warn that the plans risk pushing "some of the most vulnerable children in the country into severe poverty", and say that the Church of England has a "moral obligation to speak up for those with no voice":
The introduction of a cap on benefits, as suggested in the Welfare Reform Bill, could push . While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children's Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.
We are urging the government to consider some of the options offered by the Children's Society before the bill is passed into legislation, such as removing child benefit from household income for the purposes of calculating the level of the cap and calculating the level of the cap based on earnings of families with children, rather than all households. The government could also consider removing certain vulnerable groups from the cap and the introduction of a significant "grace period" of exemption from the cap for households which have recently left employment.
This intervention follows a period of soul-searching about the role of the Church of England, prompted by their attitudes to the anti-capitalist protesters camped outside St Paul's: Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser resigned over plans to evict them forcibly, arguing that the Church should stand up for those with a moral argument, while Williams expressed support for their cause.
An initial statement from the Department for Work and Pensions suggests that the bishops' call has not been taken on board. A spokesman simply reiterated that: "It simply isn't fair that households on out-of-work benefits can receive a greater income from the state than the average working household gets in wages.