Cardinal-designate Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and British Prime Minister David Cameron have exchanged differences of opinion over the government’s policy of welfare cuts.
At a London press conference yesterday ahead of this week’s cardinal-making consistory, Archbishop Nichols said recent changes in welfare payments had left many in “hunger and destitution”.
He insisted that he was not attacking the principle of welfare reform but giving a voice to the reality on the ground which is being reported to him by a network of clergy and charity groups in deprived parishes.
“I said [the] fact that people are left in destitution was a disgrace, I didn’t say the Government’s policies were a disgrace,” he said, referring to an interview he gave last week. “I said the fact of people left for weeks on end without any support and therefore having to have recourse to foodbanks in a country as affluent as ours was a disgrace.”
He said that it was clear that welfare reform is “necessary” and “difficult” adding: “I [am] sure that these things were unintended consequences of this attempt to reform … My concern is to echo the voices that come to me of the circumstances today in which people are left without any support for weeks on end, are hungry, are destitute.
“There must be something wrong with the administration of a system which has that effect on so many people’s lives.”
But in an article in today’s Daily Telegraph, David Cameron said his government was giving unemployed Britons “new hope and responsibility” by cutting their benefit payments and claims his welfare reforms are part of a “moral mission” for the country.
He also argued that the Archbishop of Westminster’s criticism is “simply not true” and said the overhaul of the benefits system, led by Iain Duncan Smith, himself a practising Catholic, was about “doing what is right” and not simply “making the numbers add up”.
The Archbishop first issued the warning in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last week, describing the benefits system as increasingly “punitive” and saying the situation in which many people now found themselves was “a disgrace”.
Cameron said that while it is important that the Church speaks out on political questions and respects the archbishop’s view, he disagreed with it “deeply.”
Archbishop Nichols also criticised the immigration debate in the country, saying it should not be based on fear. Political leaders “ought to appeal to something more noble and something more substantial than fear,” he said.
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