Baptists in the United Kingdom have joined several denominations in backing a call endorsed by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, for urgent steps to prevent hundreds of thousands of children from plunging into poverty.
In his first major political intervention, Welby has supported amendments tabled by bishops in the House of Lords in partnership with the Children’s Society to the government’s Welfare Benefit Up-rating Bill.
The bill will be debated in the House of Lords on March 19. It limits the amount by which most key benefits and tax credits can rise each year to 1 percent, regardless of how much prices increase.
As this is below the rate of inflation, nearly nine in 10 households with children will be hit, according to the Children’s Society. The government estimates this will push an estimated 200,000 children into poverty.
Welby, who will be formally enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21, said “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 fulfill their commitment to end child poverty.”
A number of leaders from other denominations have supported the amendments, which would seek to remove child tax credits, child benefits and child additions within Universal Credit from the scope of the bill.
They include Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who said, “We understand the government’s desire to restrict spending but are distressed that the Welfare Benefit Up-rating Bill could have a deeply damaging effect on the poorest families.
“We appeal to the government to think again and to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected from disproportionate cuts,” Edwards said.
“Children rightly look to us for protection and we must ensure that nothing is done that would undermine the already precarious existence of hundreds of thousands of our nation’s youngest members.”
A letter signed by 43 bishops was also published in the Sunday Telegraph, claiming that capping benefit increases at 1 percent will have a “deeply disproportionate” effect on children.
It called on peers from all political parties to support the amendments, which were also supported by leaders from Roman Catholic and Methodist churches; the United Reform Church and the Evangelical Alliance also supported the call.
Iain Duncan Smith, secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions, said fairness was at the heart of the bill.
“People who are paying taxes, working very hard, have hardly seen any increases in their salary and yet, under the last government, the welfare bill rose by some 60 percent to 200 billion pounds. That means they have to pay for that under their taxes, which is simply not fair.
“That same system trapped huge numbers, millions, in dependency, dependent on the state, unable, unwilling to work,” Smith said. “What is either moral or fair about that? That’s my challenge over to the bishop.”
A version of this article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.