Exclusive: Bishops fear ‘unrest’ in North over virus unless Boris Johnson acts

THE North’s three most senior bishops today warn that Boris Johnson’s approach to Covid-19 in the North risks causing a generation of “disillusion and unrest” amongst younger people and “dividing the nation”.

The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell was enthorned last weekend as the 98th Archbishop of York.

The churchmen, headed by the newly-enthroned Archbishop of York, also warn that the social consequences could be “more dangerous and de-stabilising” than the virus unless Ministers begin to respect regional leaders.

Their intervention comes at the end of a divisive week defined by an ugly stand-off between Downing Street and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham over inadequate financial support for affected areas, prompting the Prime Minister to say he was “not at war with the North”.

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There’s also mounting anger, as the highest Tier 3 coronarivus rules come into force in Sheffield City Region, that Chancellor Rishi Sunak only announced new support for businesses after the Covid threat level rose in London.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has spent the week at loggerheads with the Government over Tier 3 restrictions - and financial recompense.

Now the Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, enthroned last Sunday, has written a hard-hitting essay for The Yorkshire Post with the Bishops of Leeds and Manchester urging Ministers to do more to help the poor.

The Church’s strongest rebuke yet of Ministers for their handling of the pandemic, they warn: “If we are going to bring real equality and levelling up across the country, then people living in poverty need to be paid a sufficient wage that can enable them to feel secure by staying home.

“Blaming them for not doing so is not an option. They simply don’t have the cushion or the safety net that is there for people on higher wages, nor is the current benefits system the help that it should be.”

Calling for “a collective, nationwide response”, the clergy say that the cost “is a price worth paying” to avoid even more profound social division.

Sheffield and South Yorkshire entered Tier 3 lockdown restrictions today.

“A divided nation where one section of society, generally wealthy, generally living in the South, is able to screen itself more effectively from coronavirus and get through to the other side of this pandemic, and another section of society, generally poorer, generally in the North, suffers greatly,” they state.

“The cost of this division, particularly among younger people, will only lead to disillusion and unrest.”

Archbishop Cottrell, together with Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, and David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, also call for “much greater collaboration” between Westminster and regional leaders.

“If we fail to do this, it will be measured in human suffering and may turn out to be a scourge that is more dangerous and de-stabilising than Covid-19 itself,” they conclude.

The intervention came after Mr Johnson praised the North’s “fortitude and selflessness” ahead of the difficult winter ahead and assured families that “this government is going to be with you every step of the way”.

‘No luxury of easy choices’ says mayor

people LIVing in South Yorkshire need to show their renowned “grit and character”, the area’s mayor said last night.

Sheffield City Region leader Dan Jarvis’s message came as the area entered new Tier 3 lockdown measures.

“We don’t have the luxury of easy choices,” he said. “But I have no doubt this was the right one to make.

“The alternatives carry far too great a risk of causing more deaths, and ultimately more harm to our economy.”

He added: “That is why I am asking people in South Yorkshire to tap again into the grit and character which have got us through so many difficult times before.”

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