Nick de Bois is a Secretary of the 1922 Committee and MP for Enfield North
The intervention from cardinal designate Nichols is a perfectly reasonable thing for a senior church leader to do. Some say he should keep out of commentating on political policy but this is nonsense and frankly it doesn’t really matter what others think since he and his predecessors have a long tradition in criticising governments, all be it generally Conservative one’s.
What’s disappointing however is that his comments, particularly on welfare policy in this country, lack a perspective which should remind us that the church leadership has often been an ally in supporting a welfare system that encouraged a dependency culture and left people trapped on benefits.
Aside from the specific (and reasonable point) he makes that delays in getting benefits can have a devastating effect on some families, his wider moral tone of outrage at limiting benefits is frankly misplaced . Indeed it is his and other church leaders before him whose position should provoke “moral outrage” as they failed to challenge the policies of the last Labour government that created the shocking and repressive dependency culture.
First off let’s be clear, no one wants to take benefits off people who are worst off on benefits. That the government have to do so lies with the economic reality that, even in times of growth and prosperity, the previous Government increased the welfare bill by some 55 per cent to a staggering £200billion of which nearly £100 billion is now spent on working age benefits.
As my colleague Kwasi Keartang said this weekend:
“..without the government’s efforts to rein in welfare spending, Britain would pile up unsustainable debts”
More significantly he added:
“We have also got to change the culture. The current system was simply unsustainable.”
Labour took us to the position where, in Britain, the Government imposes high taxes on its citizens in order to give them back their own money in benefits. As a result since coming to power the full consequences of that policy is demonstrated by ordinary families paying too much tax so that it can be given back to them in benefits and credits. It’s bad for the recipients and costly for the taxpayer.
This Welfare Trap that the last Government created ensnared five million people, and meant almost two million children were growing up in homes where nobody worked. Where were the church leaders then when the welfare system made it financially disadvantageous for the worst off in society to take a job instead of benefits?
Where were Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols and his predecessors to rage against the fact that the safety net had become a financial trap door that few were able to climb out from back into work. Was it not “deeply disproportionate” that some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society were subject to tax rates of 70 per cent, 80 per cent or even 90 per cent due to the structure of the benefits system?
It is disappointing that only now, with a Conservative-led Government seeking to free people from welfare dependency, that the church leaders find their voice to rage against government.
Indeed the moral arguments for reducing the welfare bill are there to be made, and as the last three years prove beyond all doubt, it is only Conservatives that will make them. Making difficult decisions in order to deliver welfare reform will stand as one of the Conservative-led Government’s proudest achievements.
In 2015 when Britain chooses its Prime Minister, achievements like this will reinforce in people’s minds that Britain can continue on a clear course with David Cameron, or risk being sunk by putting Ed Miliband and Labour back at the helm. Meanwhile if the church leadership do want to enter the debate they might do well to reflect on the charge often made of today’s political leaders that they are often seen as “out of touch with the public they serve” as I suspect many in church congregations may think differently to Cardinal designate Nicols if polling on welfare reform is to be believed.