Chancellor urged not to put poor in economic harm's way

Food Bank
Food bank at The Gate project in Alloa.

Church leaders have warned that a freeze to state benefits combined with an expected rise in inflation will hit the poorest people in society “harder and faster”.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland , has urged the UK Government to provide assurances that vulnerable families will be protected from further erosion of the value of support payments.

The Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, predicts that the prices of basic goods such as food will be the first to rise as result of the fall in the value of the pound.

Dr Frazer and leaders of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church churches are calling for action to stop the most vulnerable people being put in economic harm’s way ahead of the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Decent welfare system

Most working age benefits are frozen in cash terms for the next four years, allowing their value to be eroded by inflation year on year.

This will cut the level of the support available to families across Scotland containing more than 930,000 children.

Dr Frazer said “Keeping a family fed takes up more and more of low income family budgets.

“Many parents are already going without to ensure their children are fed.

“The cost of food is rising. More and more do not have enough to eat.

“A decent welfare system must ensure that is not the case.

“Benefits need to keep pace with the rise of food costs.”

Harder and faster

Dr Frazer, minister at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, said he regularly encounters people whose benefits are being stretched more and more which is deeply damaging on them and their families.

“Other colleagues in different parts of the country tell me exactly the same,” he added.

“This is not about numbers.

“It is about people and how we treat some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The Church of Scotland is a member of the Joint Public Issues Team which combines the expertise of the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church in the area of public issues, representing more than 800,000 people in the UK.

Rachel Lampard, vice president of the Methodist Conference, said “The benefits freeze is putting the poorest in economic harm’s way.

“In January when the UK Parliament voted to freeze benefits inflation was low, stable and predicted to remain low.

“Today the economic outlook is very different.

“Rising inflation will mean 7.5 million children will be hit by cuts harder and faster than was ever intended. It is time this huge cut was brought under control”

Price of food

Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said “There are already record numbers of people seeking emergency help from foodbanks and church run night shelters are seeing increasing demand.

“If the benefit system is to do its job of supporting families through difficult times there must be a link between the price of food and shelter and the value of benefits.”