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Bedroom Tax And Benefit Cuts Attacked As 'Unjust' By 4 Leading Churches

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A group of leading churches has branded the Government's cuts to benefits as "unjust", saying the most vulnerable people are paying a "disproportionate price" under austerity measures.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland have come together to criticise the public perception of people in poverty.

They say politicians have misrepresented those on benefits in order to justify a raft of cuts that will encompass council tax benefit, payments to the disabled, and the so-called "bedroom tax" - an axe which they say falls unfairly on the poor.

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Churches argue the poorest will be hardest hit

The benefit cuts also suggest that people in poverty "deserve" their situation and that they are not valued, according to Paul Morrison, public issues policy advisor at the Methodist Church.

"Our feeling is that these benefit changes are a symptom of an understanding of people in poverty in the United Kingdom that is just wrong," he told the BBC.

"It is an understanding of people that they somehow deserve their poverty, that they are somehow 'lesser', that they are not valued.

"The churches believe that they are valued and we believe that they should be treated much more fairly than they are being."

The four churches joined forces to tackle what they see as the Government manipulating statistics to effectively vilify the poor, creating a culture that blames them for their own poverty.

They have written a report on poverty and sent it to every MP and Member of the Scottish Parliament.

"We saw that people who we value, who we believe God values and God loves, we saw them being insulted day in and day out in the media, and that needed to stop," Mr Morrison told the BBC.

"The consequence of the attitudes towards the poor is that welfare cuts like this become more acceptable, so it's right that we criticise that too."

Mr Morrison conceded that the welfare system wasn't perfect, but said: "Whatever problems the country faced it wasn't (the poor) that caused it and shouldn't be them that pay for it."

He told the BBC: "The reason why cuts to benefits and services to the poorest and most vulnerable in society are acceptable is that we have come to believe that the poorest and most vulnerable are in some way deserving of their fate, and that is straightforwardly not true.

"The poorest are not lazy. The majority of people who are long-term on benefits are ill or disabled. The majority of people on unemployment benefit get a new job within 13 weeks."

He added: "People on benefits do not have an easy life. They do not have huge amounts of money, they are struggling day to day. Our churches who have food banks see that people even in work and people who are on benefits are needing help."

Labour have claimed that families on average will be £900 worse off a year after the incoming benefit changes.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps hit back at the churches - accusing them of failing to protest when housing waiting lists were rising under Labour.

"Where were these people jumping up and down as those housing waiting lists doubled under the previous administration?" he asked on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

"Why weren't we hearing from the churches, why weren't hearing from these Labour politicians?

"What we are doing is saying: hold on, we have a million spare bedrooms which are not being used and yet we are paying housing benefit to support.

"Wouldn't it be better to put some of those people who are languishing on those record housing waiting lists into homes by freeing up those spare bedrooms?

"It is pretty logical stuff when you put it like that and I think it is long overdue to try to sort of this mess."

He said he "absolutely" disagreed with the charge that the poor were suffering because of the mistakes of the wealthy.

"The country is facing very difficult times and one of the cruellest things of all is to have a huge deficit in this country meaning that everyone's children will be expected to pay back for our debt today.

"One of the things that will change with the Universal Credit...is that nearly a million people, including 350,000 children, will be taken out of poverty.

"So I do want to challenge the church on this; I don't think it's right to leave people in a situation where it costs them to go and work.

"It is not good for society and it is obviously not good for individuals."

All this comes in a weekend that saw thousands of people take to streets in cities across the UK in protest of the bedroom tax.

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