THE Archbishop of York today urges Ministers to “think again” over the introduction of their flagship Universal Credit policy and show greater compassion to ensure that Yorkshire’s poorest families are not left destitute.
Dr John Sentamu’s impassioned plea in The Yorkshire Post follows a week-long series by this newspaper into the implementation of the controversial welfare reform – and how some recipients have been left reliant on food banks, and charity handouts, because of the resulting hardship.
His intervention risks further straining the relationship between the Church of England and the Government after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, provoked controversy at the TUC conference earlier this month when he told trade activists that Universal Credit had, in fact, failed to make the benefit system fairer – its original objective.
However Tories remain steadfast in their support of the policy devised by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith before he became Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010. Employment Minister Alok Sharma MP said: “Universal Credit helps people smoothly transition into work, as the amount you receive in benefits gradually reduces as your pay increases.”
However Dr Sentamu says Ministers should take three “immediate steps” before the policy is rolled out across Yorkshire. Highlighting the unease that has been expressed by civic leaders here, he writes: “First, we urgently need improved flexibility and support for people applying for and receiving Universal Credit.
“Secondly, the policy must not leave people at risk of debt and destitution. Thirdly, we need a lasting commitment that Universal Credit will provide people with an adequate income, so they can keep their heads above water and afford good food.
“If those changes can be made, then Universal Credit still has the potential to be a successful, effective policy. The Government should take immediate steps to stop many people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in desperate circumstances. I urge them to think again.”