Think-tanks publish open letter from prominent Catholics to Secretary of State for Work and Pension

LONDON & EDINBURGH, 3 JULY 2015: The think-tanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform have today published an open letter (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21853) to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, from Catholics and people brought up in the Catholic faith who support its teaching on social justice and who are deeply critical of the government’s treatment of vulnerable and disabled people.

Signatories to the letter include the author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce; leading academic historian Sir Tom Devine OBE; author and well-known literary figure David Lodge, who was brought up Catholic; theologians Professor Mary Grey and Professor Tina Beattie, and the Union of Catholic Mothers – as well as academics, writers, retired professionals, justice and peace workers, and parish priests.

The letter, which was coordinated by Ekklesia chief operating officer Virginia Moffatt and associate, Bernadette Meaden, both Catholics, calls for a significant change of direction on welfare reform. It is published in advance of the emergency budget of the 8th July, which is widely anticipated to include a further £12 billion of welfare cuts.

The signatories highlight concerns that the Department of Work and Pensions continues to apply sanctions to benefit claimants despite known health risks; the harm caused to disabled and sick people by the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and changes to disability living allowance; the problems caused by the benefit cap; and the rollout of Universal credit.

The letter acknowledges that Mr Duncan Smith’s sincerely held Catholic beliefs inform his work on welfare, which is well intentioned. However, the actual outcome of his reform is increasing distress to some of the poorest people in society, they point out.

Citing the 1931 Papal Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the signatories ask that the Secretary of State acknowledges their concerns and enters into dialogue with them.

The Union of Catholic Mothers said on signing: “We are happy to add our voice to this expression of concern especially as it could affect so many families, the poor and vulnerable people.”

Virginia Moffatt, one of the co-authors, added: “We thought long and hard about writing an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith. As a way of trying to influence government policy, this method would certainly not be our first choice. We believe in focusing on policies, not politicians. But we also believe we have now reached the position where to appeal to Mr Duncan Smith as an individual, and to make a strong public show of concern, is necessary.”

Ekklesia, a Christian think-tank, and the Centre for Welfare Reform, which looks alternative policies and prescriptions, both publish research and commentary on issues of welfare and are long-term critics of austerity and the government’s approach to this policy area.

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1. For further information and interview requests, contact: Virginia Moffatt 07729 380471; virginia.moffatt AT ekklesia.co.uk
2. The Open Letter and the full list of signatories can be read here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21853
3. Ekklesia is a think-tank examining beliefs, values and religion in politics and public life (www.ekklesia.co.uk).
4. The Centre for Welfare Reform is a think-tank specialising in projects to develop social innovations, redesign the welfare state and promote social justice (http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org).