POLITICS

Archbishop Of Canterbury Justin Welby Seeks to Defuse Welfare Row With Iain Duncan Smith

11/03/2013 21:22 GMT | Updated 12/03/2013 10:14 GMT

The new Archbishop of Canterbury has backed away from a row with ministers over welfare changes - and admitted he used to claim benefits himself.

Justin Welby hailed Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for attempting a "brave" reform of "a system that most people admit is shot full of holes, wrong incentives, and incredible complexity".

It comes after the Archbishop endorsed a letter at the weekend, signed by 43 bishops, that claimed capping benefit rises at 1% will have a "deeply disproportionate" effect on children.

Writing on his blog, he said: "Like many parish priests’ families, we got benefits, and it was incredibly complicated. For lots of people in the parishes where I worked, taking some extra hours of work could actually lower income; that is exactly the kind of thing that the move to universal credit aims to change."

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph he had said that "children and families will pay the price" if plans to change the system go ahead in their current form, leading Mr Duncan Smith to respond by saying the current system trapped millions in dependency.

The leader of the world's Anglican Communion described Duncan Smith as a "a leading and principled expert on welfare".

"The work and pensions secretary is also attempting this series of reforms at a time when, through no fault of his own, government finances are more squeezed than at any time in peace since the 1930s," he wrote.

"And reforms cost money. So he also has to manage a considerable task.

"Having met him, I am absolutely convinced he is trying to do something that he knows more about than most - and with the best possible motives.

"But, with a number of other Bishops (and we tend to live in, or have lived in, or have clergy living in, the most affected parts of our country), I feel that the particular way the burden is being shared is wrong."

Welby said he was not making a great, grand political gesture, but a "reasoned questioning of something that a lot of people are concerned about", adding: "Perhaps a little less heat and a little more clarity would help."

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Iain Duncan Smith Hits Back At Archbishop of Canterbury's Comments

The archbishop, who will be formally enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March, went on London radio station LBC on Monday evening, but the station said he declined to discuss welfare while on the drivetime show with Ian Dale.

Lambeth Palace was not immediately available for comment.

The archbishop, an Old Etonian former banker who sits on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, described the EU's plan for a cap on bonuses as a "blunt instrument" that could lead to basic salaries - which are already very high - rising to make up the difference.

"I think there is a fundamental question though which I've been asking on the Banking Commission, together with loads of other people including people you wouldn't describe as exactly left wing like Nigel Lawson and people like that, just questions about the overall level of pay in the banking world compared to the level of pay in other sectors of life," he said.

"And there seems to be a big gap that we should be rather cautious about."