18/02/2014 11:04 GMT | Updated 18/02/2014 11:59 GMT

Britain's Top Catholic, Vincent Nichols, Slams Politicians Over Immigration

John Stillwell/PA Wire
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster at a press conference in the Archbishops Office at Westminster Cathedral in central London, prior to being made a Cardinal when he attends the consistory in Rome on Saturday.

Britain's most senior Roman Catholic has slammed political leaders for the "the discourse of fear" over immigration.

Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said migrant workers helped ensure large cities such as London were able to "carry on working", and said it was time for senior politicians to "appeal to something more normal and more substantial than fear" when discussing foreign workers' contributions to the economy.

Speaking from the Archbishop's House in Westminster, the Nichols identified London as an example of where the benefits of immigration could be seen.

He said: "It is perfectly clear in this city if you are up early and on the tubes early in the morning, the people coming in

to this city to make sure it carries on working are the immigrant communities.


"If you go to the National Health Service you know very well that a lot of its work and ongoing survival and service is down to immigrant communities.

"I think we really should have a positive appreciation of the contribution that people who come to this country make to our well-being and economy. I think the idea that immigrants are a net drain on our economy is false.

"We should not have a discourse about immigration which is based on fear."

He added: "I think it is - quite frankly - a lack of political leadership if we fashion a debate around fear. I think leaders ought to appeal to something more normal and more substantial than fear."

The Archbishop was also asked to discuss his views on the welfare system, against a backdrop of soaring demand for handouts.

Nearly 500,000 people in the UK needed support from food banks last year, according to figures from the Trussell Trust.

The Archbishop said: "The fact that people are left in destitution is a disgrace. The fact of people left for weeks on end without any support and therefore having to have recourse for food banks in a country as affluent as our is a disgrace.

"I accept a reform of the welfare system is necessary. It is a complex, difficult thing to achieve. I accept that these things were unintended consequences of reform.

"My concern is to echo the voices that come to me of the circumstances today - people are hungry, destitute.

"There must be something wrong with the administration that has that effect on so many people's lives. I believe that is an issue that can be tackled."

Asked if the fact that people were struggling on handouts indicated that the church had a "failed" in its responsibilities to safeguard communities, the Archbishop replied: "Certainly."

But he added: "Pope Francis presents these two things to us - the vision of what we should be, and he's not afraid of the reality of what we are."

He said the church and businesses should also be more sensitive to their ethical responsibilities.

"It (business) must see itself located as an important player and contributor to society," he said. "A good business will not survive in a broken society."

The Archbishop, who is to be created as a Cardinal by Pope Francis in Rome this weekend, reiterated his opinion that people being forced to turn to food banks in the UK was a "disgrace", but admitted the church had its part to play in the "failure".