19/02/2014 03:33 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 04:59 GMT

David Cameron Defends 'Moral' Benefit Cuts, Says They Bring 'Hope'

Ben Stansall/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London, where he promised that "money is no object" in providing relief to communities affected by floods, as he warned that the country faces "a long haul" to recover from the devastation of recent weeks. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 11, 2014. Fresh from a two-day tour of inundated communities in South-West England and the Thames Valley, the Prime Minister announced he was cancelling a planned trip to the Middle East to take personal charge of the relief operation. With 16 severe flood warnings, 133 flood warnings and 225 flood alerts still in force, he told a Downing Street news conference that the situation could deteriorate further. See PA story WEATHER Floods. Photo credit should read: Ben Stansall/PA Wire

David Cameron has denied that benefit cuts are plunging people into poverty, saying they actually give people "hope".

The Prime Minister hit back at criticism from the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, insisting they were part of his "moral mission" for the country.

He said claims by the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, that recent changes to the benefits system had left many facing hunger and destitution were "simply not true".

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said the reforms were not just about "making the numbers add up", but were intended to bring "new hope" to people who had previously been written off by the system.

This generated a backlash on Twitter, as did his claim that the number of workless households had doubled under Labour.

"Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right," Cameron wrote.

"Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up."

Mr Cameron said that while the church was entitled to speak out on political issues, he did not accept the Archbishop's claim that the system was becoming increasingly "punitive" and that the situation in which many people now found themselves was "a disgrace".

"Of course, we are in the middle of a long and difficult journey turning our country around," Mr Cameron said.

"That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children's to inherit.

"But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone - they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope - and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.

"Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan - and it is at the heart too of our social and moral mission in politics today."

The Archbishop, who is to be made a Cardinal later this week, defended his comments, saying that he had been "inundated" with messages of support since speaking out last week.

"What I notice in Government statements is that they are mostly cast in the future tense 'These reforms will achieve this, will achieve that,'" he told the Telegraph.

"My concern is to echo the voices that come to me of the circumstances today in which people are left without any support for weeks on end, are hungry, are destitute.

"There must be something wrong with the administration of a system which has that effect on so many people's lives."