The BBC are really going big on a story about four churches attacking the Gov't over changes to the welfare state. The four are the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the United Reform Church and the Church of Scotland. The story is being sold as if its the four Church's Easter Message. I'm told the Guardian has also gone quite big on it. Surprisingly, I can find no mention of it in the Sunday Telegraph or the Mail on Sunday, which we take at home. Makes me suspect it was not an Easter message at all. In fact, the Guardian tells us that it was a report published by the Churches 'earlier this year'. It very much looks as if its been recycled by the BBC at Easter in an effort to give it greater impact. I suppose you could say it was re-making a story to pursue an agenda.
Whatever. Lets consider what the churches are supposed to have said. I cannot make much of it, except that they don't like references to benefit recipients in pejorative language. Well I'm with the churches on that. The single issue referred to is the limit on uprating benefits to 1% for the next three years. I accept this was a tough call by the Chancellor, but I cannot see that he has much choice. Since the Coalition Gov't came to power and set about reducing the deficit, public sector workers have received only 1% per year at best - and employees in the private sector have fared even worse. And last year, benefits were uprated by a whopping 5.2%. I cannot but feel some re-balancing was needed here - particularly since the squeeze on wages in both public and private sector is going to carry on for longer than we wanted or hoped. Others oppose this 1% limit as well, so I'm not criticising the Churches for their view - just disagreeing with it. But I bet the Churches are a bit miffed that this has been portrayed as the big Easter Message.
In general, the churches should think through their positions a bit more carefully. Their comments make no reference to the need to make savings. Do they not know about the appalling financial disaster the current Gov't inherited in 2010. Do they not think comments would be taken more seriously if they at least recognised that there is a deficit to be tackled. Do they not realise that the only countries where the welfare state has actually been cut back is where Gov'ts have lost control of the public finances. Nothing has caused more human tragedy than the way the welfare state was used by the last Labour Gov't to create a dependency culture - where young people are effectively written off while still at school. Reforming the welfare state into one that is a 'safety net' rather than a 'dependency trap' is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Coalition Gov't. None of us are sure this reform can be pulled off. The Labour opposition I can understand - but you really would have thought the churches would have wanted to help.