Bill Carmichael: Practise what you preach

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IN the House of Lords this week, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, led a revolt by senior clergy against the Government’s welfare reforms, arguing that an annual cap on benefits of £26,000 is unfair and un-Christian.

Fine, but if we take Bishop Packer and his fellow bishops at their word over what constitutes a fair income, there are going to have to be some enormous pay rises in the Church of England.

It would be fascinating for example to listen to the bishops explain to their curates – paid about £16,000 a year regardless of the number of dependent children – why they have a duty to support through their taxes a benefit claimant pulling in the pre-tax equivalent of £35,000.

The vast majority of employees of the CoE – administrators, charity workers, cleaners as well as clergy – are not paid anything near £35,000 a year. A vicar for example will earn about £22,000 before tax. Will the bishops’ compassion extend to them too?

Bishop John went even further, saying that paying someone with dependent children the same as a childless person was unfair. So no doubt his diocese will be introducing a substantial pay differential for people with children and giving them a big pay increase every time a new child is born. No limits of course – the more children you have, the richer you get!

Of course none of this will happen. If Bishop John were as generous with church funds as he is with taxpayers’ money, the CoE would go bust in days.

And that is the point – we as a country are broke, partly thanks to the ever-increasing welfare bill. If the bishops are seeking an excuse for moral outrage, they should look no further than the £1 trillion in debt that we have accumulated.

As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, pointed out this week, this means we are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren – in other words stealing from them – because of our stubborn refusal to live within our means.

Now that’s truly wicked and un-Christian.

It is not just CoE employees who are on low pay. The vast majority of working people in this country could never dream of earning £35,000 a year, still less the £50,000 equivalent paid out to some benefit claimants. That’s why 76 per cent of people are in favour of the benefits cap, including 69 per cent of Labour voters.

The work ethic used to be a fundamental part of church teaching and the Bible is replete with references to the virtue of work.

Work lifts people out of poverty, promotes self-respect and self-reliance and avoids the desperate downward spiral of dependency, fecklessness and poverty of aspiration.

Bishop John is apparently fond of quoting the Bible, so perhaps he won’t object if I remind him of St Paul’s words in his letter to the Thessalonians: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Today’s men

Apparently 84 per cent of reporters and guests on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 are men, according to Sound Women, a new pressure group set up to represent women working in radio.

I’ll have to take their word for it because I no longer tune in. Long gone are the days when Today set the day’s agenda, and was essential listening.

It is not the first time Today has been accused of sexism. Editor Ceri Thomas landed himself in huge trouble a while ago when he suggested women journalists were not tough enough to hack it in the Today newsroom.

The solution is simple – Harriet Harman and the rest of the sisterhood should refuse to appear on the BBC until the imbalance is redressed. Anything that keeps Harman off the airwaves has my enthusiastic backing.