New Catholic cardinal renews attack on ‘disgraceful’ UK austerity cuts
Roman Catholic archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis, inundated with messages of support.
The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales says he has been inundated with messages of support after branding the government’s austerity programme a disgrace for leaving so many people in destitution.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to mark his imminent appointment as a cardinal by Pope Francis, Archbishop Vincent Nichols expanded upon his comments to the Telegraph when he criticised the government’s welfare reforms as “punitive”.
“The voices that I hear express anger and despair … Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks,” Nichols said.
In his Telegraph interview, published on Saturday, Nichols accused ministers of tearing apart the safety net that protects people from hunger and destitution. He said since he made those comments he had been “inundated with accounts from people … saying there are indeed many cases where people are left without benefits, without any support, for sometimes weeks on end”.
Nichols gave an example of one such letter. “One man said ‘It’s quite heartbreaking the way that some of the people are treated – expected to apply for six jobs per week online in order to keep their benefits, even if they have no IT skills or no access to a computer.’ This is a man saying ‘I deal with people every day – thank goodness there are things like food banks to fill the gap’.”
Nichols added: “These are the voices that I hear and it is my privilege to put them into the public arena.”
Nichols also defended church food banks. He said one beneficiary started to cry when presented with food after not eating for three days. “It is stories like that that are part of the reality of this country today,” Nichols said.
He also suggested the government’s crackdown on benefit cheats was disproportionate, since only 1% of the welfare budget went on fraudulent claims. “There is a problem that has to be tackled, and it is right that assistance should be targeted at the most needy,” Nichols said. He added: “These are complex matters and I’m not pretending that they are simple. I’m just saying what I see and hear is people left in destitution and in a country of our wealth that shouldn’t happen.”
He concluded: “The moral challenge roots back to the principle that we have to regard and treat every single person with respect. That’s one of the great geniuses of Pope Francis – that he manages in his gestures to show that respect to even the most unlovely of people.”