THE Church of England’s Bishop of Portsmouth has identified government plans to cut disability benefits as ‘morally indefensible’.
Speaking in the House of Lords debate in response to last week’s Budget, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster urged ministers to govern ‘with a stronger moral compass’.
He criticised Chancellor George Osborne for being willing to cut benefits for the vulnerable and the disabled by £4.4bn, even though he has subsequently withdrawn the plans and admitted it was a mistake. The saga had led to the resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
He said: ‘My Lords, members of the government have frequently echoed the words of the present Chancellor in his first Budget that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden of austerity cuts.
‘Given our circumstances and our ages, my Lords, I doubt if there are many members of this House who will be worse off through the government’s proposals.
‘The tortuous saga of the last week finally led yesterday to a clarification – that is the politest term I can use – a clarification from the Chancellor that the government had intended that the losers would not be those with the broadest shoulders, but the vulnerable or disabled.
‘That decision was morally indefensible. Having accepted the error, I trust that all of us will be willing to set our course, and the government its economic course, with a stronger moral compass.’
The bishop also congratulated the government on its intention to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500, lifting 1.3m out of income tax. And he praised the extension on the time period within with the 3% stamp duty premium can be reclaimed – although he said the pay-first, reclaim-later approach wasn’t ideal.