Guy Brandon Posted: 25 January 2012
Keywords: Government & Foreign Affairs,
Having been criticised for failing to offer any answers for the country's economic problems, Church leaders have in recent days come to the fore. On Monday a group of bishops tabled an amendment in the House of Lords that called for child benefit to be excluded from the proposed £26,000 cap on benefits, provoking strong reactions from those within and outside the Church.
The bishops' intention was to protect children, particularly in larger families where the cap will make more of a difference to the amount of money received. Right Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, said, 'Christianity, along with other faiths and beliefs, requires us to think most of those that have no voice of their own. Children are one of the most evident examples of that.'
There is apparently a biblical principle here, but has it been correctly applied?
Today, former Archbishop Lord Carey heavily criticised the five bishops who led the opposition to the cap. Writing in the Daily Mail, he agreed with the need to protect children but looked at the other side of the coin: the vast majority of people whose families would suffer as a result of having to pay higher taxes to fund the benefits. He praised Iain Duncan Smith for trying to fix a benefits system responsible for 'fuelling vices and impoverishing us all'.
The debate comes against the backdrop of UK national debt reaching £1 trillion - £16,000 for every person in the country - and the news that the economy shrank by 0.2 percent in the final quarter of 2011. Nick Clegg remarked that 'the vast majority of people think it is fair to say that you can't receive more in benefits than if you were to earn £35,000 before tax.' What does 'fairness' entail in these circumstances?
The last week has seen an apparent change in the public profile and political engagement of church leaders in the political process, as bishops seek to apply Christian morality to lawmaking. The problem is that, as the BBC notes, there are two visions of morality here. 'The minister, Lord Freud, argued for a cap not to save money but to turn around lives because it was not moral, he argued, to consign children to a life in which work was not the norm - or to give more in benefits to families than the average family could earn in work. His opponents, led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, argued that it was immoral to punish families simply because they had more children. Losing a job was bad enough but then losing your home was unacceptable.'
With both sides of the argument claiming biblical support, which version of morality has a greater claim to biblical principles?