Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has criticised the bishops behind blocking the government's welfare reform proposals in the House of Lords on Monday, saying they do not have the "moral high ground".
In an article for the Daily Mail he said he was sure the bishops attempted to amend the bill, which would cap benefits at £26,000 a year, because they wanted to speak up for the poor.
But he said that the amendment which would still allow families to claim child benefit, was "against" popular opinion - and the real scandal was public debt.
"These five bishops — led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds — cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground.
"The sheer scale of our public debt, which hit £1 trillion yesterday, is the greatest moral scandal facing Britain today," Carey wrote.
The Church of England Bishops - who sit in the House of Lords - tabled an amendment to the government's plans to cap benefits to households at £500-a-week on Monday.
Ministers insist that the Bishops' amendment would have the effect of raising the cap to £50,000 a year, rendering the changes redundant if they are to deter people from remaining on welfare and not attempting to gain employment. It is highly likely that the government will seek to overturn the amendments in the Commons.
Carey points out that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is behind the measures to reform welfare, is a "committed Christian", adding: We have not tackled the root causes of poverty — the twin failures of aspiration and education — and have instead condemned generations to a lifetime of grinding envy and hopelessness."
Carey, who was brought up on a council estate and failed his 11+, added "I can’t possibly believe prolonging our culture of welfare dependency is in the best interests of our children."
The 76-year-old was Archbishop of Canterbury until 2002.
Iain Duncan Smith has insisted his welfare reform plans are not designed to "punish", and vowed the proposed cap on benefits will not make children homeless or force families into poverty.
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