Sir, – Your Question of the Week (News, 12 October), “Do the Tories champion the poor?”, fails to describe the circumstances of the people who need to be championed.
Research by the New Policy Institute shows that many councils will be introducing another poll tax to meet the ten-per-cent cut in central-government funding of council-tax benefit. The poll tax took 20 per cent of the tax out of weekly benefits in the 1990s. That means that the £111.45 a week Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or the new Universal Credit (UC), after rent and council tax, will be taxed by up to £5 a week by some councils from April 2013. That is just one example of the inadequacy of benefits.
Many council-tax-benefit claimants will not be able to pay that £5, because benefits have been reduced since the move from RPI to CPI in April 2011; they have rent arrears, owing to the housing-benefit caps; the £500 cap on all benefits will hit large families with high rents; and the prices of necessities, such as food, fuel, clothes, and transport, are increased by the market, while the value of benefits is reduced, and safety nets such as the social fund have been abolished.
When people cannot pay the council tax, councils have to apply to the magistrates for liability orders adding up to £120 to the tax; the bailiffs will be sent in, adding a further £75 to £210, depending on whether visits are made.
Donald Hirsch’s, who manages the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research into minimum income standards at Loughborough University, calculates that a single adult receiving £71 JSA/UC a week, after rent and council tax, needs the JRF minimum income standard of £91.58 a week just to pay for food, fuel, clothes, and transport. So a couple without children are already about £18 a week each short of the minimum that they need; and the Chancellor proposes to take a further £10 billion out of benefits.
Rev. Paul Nicolson, Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
The Tablet 19th October 2012: Glaring poverty
Julia Langdon (Anxiety in ‘one nation”‘, 13 October) describes a political climate I recognise but it is with one difference. The gap between rich and poor remains extreme, as in Victorian times, with food banks, low-quality housing and homelessness. I was the vicar of Turville in the Chiltern Hills for 16 years. It was a wealthy parish. Working with the poorest people in nearby High Wycombe, near Disraeli’s home, it became clear to me that his ”impossible gulf between rich and poor” exists. There were many people in the country parish “with a social conscience, irrespective of their political convictions” but they were almost entirely ignorant of the depth of poverty, debt and misery being experienced by their fellow citizens in a town eight miles away. When they were told the details of the cases of low benefits and unmanageable debts I was helping, they were shocked, as decent people always are.
Politicians rarely tell us about the dire poverty they meet in their constituency surgeries. Their persistent political propaganda over the past 30 years about a dependency culture has led many taxpayers, who have never had to apply for social-security payments, wrongly to believe that it is a generous system habitually ripped off by lazy people. This politically fuelled comprehension gap is preventing the reduction in the economic gap between rich and poor; and, ironically, costing the taxpayer billions in poverty-related illness in the NHS and educational disadvantage in the schools and the economy at large.
Rev. Paul Nicolson, Taxpayers Against Poverty
The Guardian 16th October: The Church is failing the poor
Helda Camara, an outspoken Archbishop in Brazil, who died 1999, said. ”When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” Translated into to-day’s Britain it might read “When I run a food bank, they praise me for being a volunteer. When I ask why they are poor they call me a left winger”. There is currently no chance of the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral being called a left winger. His letter focuses on the charitable work of the Churches but does not ask why the his poorest fellow citizens are hungry and getting poorer as law after law is passed against them.
He is also wrong to pass the buck to the City of London calling it the centre of power. The Church of England is deeply compromised by a financial system which watches homelessness increasing while we sell our social housing to the highest bidder. (Loose Canon- 14th October). OCCUPY is expressing deep general dissatisfaction among decent people with the institutions of church, state and private finance who have brought the economy to knees and then placed the financial consequences on the backs of the poorest citizens.
Rev Paul Nicolson, Taxpayers Against Poverty
N.B. In the edition published The Guardian I wrote that Archbishop Helda Camara was shot. I was mistaken. He died of natural causes. I was thinking of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who was assassinated on the 24th March 1980, the eve of the consecration of Robert Runcie as Archbishop of Canterbury, at which I was present. All three are part of the inspiration of many Anglicans who champion our poorest fellow citizens in Britain. Romero said “When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”