LONDON — Welfare reforms in the United Kingdom are leaving people hungry and destitute, said Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
He called the harm caused by government austerity policies to the poor “a disgrace” in an interview with the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper. The interview appeared Feb. 15, one week before he was to be elevated to cardinal during a ceremony in Rome.
“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said Cardinal-designate Nichols.
“But I think what is happening is two things, one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart,” he said. “It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.
“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive,” he continued. “So if applicants don’t get it right, then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing, with nothing.”
He added: “For a country of our affluence that, quite frankly, is a disgrace.”
The government’s welfare reforms are aimed at forcing millions of people who are capable of work, but who are living off unemployment benefits payments, back into the workplace.
The measures have been accompanied, however, by a proliferation of more than 400 food banks to answer a demand for food and other necessities, often from people whose welfare payments have stopped but who have not yet received payment for work.
In response to the comments by Cardinal-designate Nichols, the government’s Department for Work and Pensions issued a statement saying that the welfare system was in dire need of reform because it was “trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around 5 million on out-of-work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.”
“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities … making 3 million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty,” said the statement.
It added: “It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94 billion pounds a year on working-age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”