Churches have responded to features of the UK Budget announced on 22 November 2017, including changes to Universal Credit, initiatives for housing and rough sleeping, and funding for the NHS.
Church of England
‘The Chancellor’s Budget has gone some way to deal with the immediate problems facing our economy, housing and NHS, but it could have gone much further to help the many at the sharp end struggling to get by’, commented the Bishop of Birmingham, Rt. Revd David Urquhart.
‘Across the country churches support and are in touch with those who experience poverty or financial difficulty as a result of low pay, illness, or debt… But whilst the Chancellor has limited room for manoeuvre, there is more that could have been done to alleviate the situation of those who are struggling to manage. Deficit reduction is important, but should be achieved in ways that promote fairness, generosity, and sustainability.
‘The target for reducing rough sleeping is right, and I welcome the investment in pilots in my own region of the West Midlands. Help for first time buyers is also very welcome, as is the extra investment to increase housing supply and the removal of unnecessary barriers to housing development. But they need to be matched with attention to other policies that might drive a rise in homelessness. More can be done to improve access to genuinely affordable housing for families on low incomes, not only through investment in social housing, but going further than the Chancellor announced to help those on low incomes in private rented housing.
‘The reduction in the waiting time and other changes to Universal Credit are welcome and will help to reduce the financial strain on new claimants… Looking ahead, existing pre-planned cuts to the work allowance will still push many low income working families into poverty. This is why so many had called for these cuts to be reversed in today’s Budget and it is disappointing that the Chancellor has not acted’.
You can read the whole of the Bishop of Birmingham’s response to the UK Budget on the Church of England website.
Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT)
Wednesday’s budget is likely to improve the ‘often awful’ first weeks of a Universal Credit claim, said JPIT, but rather than address the core flaws in the benefit’s design, they patch it over.
While JPIT welcomed the removal of the seven day wait before an application is processed, it said this still leaves 5 weeks between the application and receiving a payment which the government is proposing to solve by lending families 4 weeks benefit and taking repayments over the following year.
‘The five-week wait is therefore effectively converted into a one-week wait and a large debt. The repayments of the debt will amount to 8% of the monthly UC payment for 12 months’, commented JPIT, ‘the Government’s solution to the design problems within Universal Credit means that already inadequate payments will be reduced by 8% for a year’.
Read the full response to the UK Budget from the Joint Public Issues Team on the JPIT website.
JPIT covers public issues for the Baptist Union, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland.
The Salvation Army has welcomed the changes to Universal Credit but is urging the UK Government to scrap the ‘unworkable model for “short term”supported housing funding’.
‘The Salvation Army welcomes the Government’s recognition of the need for consistent, comprehensive dialogue with a range of stakeholders from across Government and the homelessness sector with the introduction of its Homelessness Reduction Taskforce’, said a spokesperson.
However, the church is concerned by the Government’s proposal for the future funding of short term supported housing:
‘Rather than offering a solid platform for providers to continue investing in their residents and services, the new proposal sees all funding for “short-term” supported housing being devolved to hard-pressed local authorities, with the funding also completely discretionary – meaning there are no guarantees that residents in supported housing will receive this funding. This exposes vulnerable residents and providers to significant levels of financial uncertainty.’
Read the full statement by the Salvation Army on the UK Budget on the Salvation Army website.