Senior cleric slams welfare reforms

Hillingdon Times: Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said the Government had decimated even the most "basic safety net" for those threatened by poverty Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said the Government had decimated even the most "basic safety net" for those threatened by poverty

The leading Roman Catholic cleric in England and Wales has branded the Coalition's welfare reforms as a "disgrace" which leave vulnerable people facing "hunger and destitution".

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said the Government had decimated even the most "basic safety net" for those threatened by poverty.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales also said that the welfare system had become more "punitive", leaving people with nothing if they fail to fill in forms correctly.

In an interview with the Telegraph, the Archbishop said: "People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure.

"But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.

"It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.

"And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.

"So if applicants don't get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing - with nothing.

"For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace."

The Archbishop's criticisms come after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, a practising Catholic, hit out at the Church of England for savaging aspects of his reforms last year.

Mr Duncan Smith accused top Anglican clergymen, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, of ignoring the concerns of ordinary people after they signed a letter claiming that capping benefit rises would have a "deeply disproportionate" effect on children.

He said the system was "out of control" and simply "giving more and more money" would not help.

"There is nothing moral or fair about a system that I inherited that trapped people in welfare dependency," he added.

Cardinal-designate Nichols is one of 19 senior clerics chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the Roman Catholic clergy's second highest rank.

It means he will be granted a place at the conclave which will elect the next pope.

The Archbishop is one of only two Europeans on a list of clergymen to be made Cardinals next week, aside from those already holding senior offices at the Holy See, with the rest hailing from the developing world.

Since his election as pope in March last year Francis has cultivated a radical image, challenging politicians over their treatment of immigrants and adopting a more tolerant stance towards homosexuality.

A DWP spokesman said: "The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around five million on out of work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.

"Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.

"It's wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we're spending £94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs."

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