Bishops hit at welfare reforms

Times Series: The bishops say half a million people in Britain have visited food banks since last Easter The bishops say half a million people in Britain have visited food banks since last Easter

Twenty-six bishops have written a letter condemning the Government's "punitive" welfare reforms which they say have forced people into food and fuel poverty.

In an open letter to the Daily Mirror to mark the beginning of Lent on March 5, the bishops said that too many people were having to choose between "heat or eat" as a result of "cut backs and failures in the benefit system".

They said that politicians had a "moral imperative" to do more to control food price hikes and to make sure that the welfare system offered the poor an essential safety net from hunger.

The Anglican bishops write: "Half a million people have visited food banks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.

"We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must 'heat or eat' each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years.

"Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions."

They added: "We call on government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger."

Signatories to the letter included Anglican bishops Stephen Patten (Wakefield), David Walker (Manchester), Tim Stevens (Leicester), Andy John (Bangor), Tony Porter (Sherwood), Paul Butler (Durham), Alan Wilson (Buckingham), Alan Smith (St Albans), Nick Holtam (Salisbury), Tim Thornton (Truro), John Pritchard (Oxford), Steven Croft (Sheffield), Jonathan Gledhill (Lichfield), Michael Perham (Gloucester), Alastair Redfern (Derby), Lee Rayfield (Swindon), James Langstaff (Rochester), Martin Warner (Chichester), Mike Hill (Bristol), Martin Wharton (Newcastle), Peter Maurice (Taunton), Gregory Cameron (St Asaph), Peter Burrows (Doncaster), Stephen Cottrell (Chelmsford), Martyn Snow (Tewkesbury) and John Holbrook (Brixworth). They were joined by a number of Methodist Districts and the Quaker Peace and Social Justice group.

Responding to the bishops' calls, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "This letter should be a wake-up call to David Cameron.

"His Government's policies are making life harder for families with a cost-of-living crisis making workers £1,600 worse off and the bedroom tax forcing hundreds of thousands to food bank.

"This Tory-led Government's welfare reforms have penalised, rather than helped, those doing the right thing."

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