Churches and Christian charities have written to the Government expressing their concern over its rhetoric on benefit fraud. They say that recent announcements from the Government have had the effect of stigmatising the poor, particularly those who receive out of work benefits.
Although the Christian leaders stress that benefit fraud should be stamped out, they question the emphasis being placed on it by the Government.
The tendency to emphasise fraud when poverty and welfare reform are discussed often distracts attention from getting resources to those genuinely in need, which accounts for the other 99.4% of benefit spending, they said.
They accused the Chancellor of conflating the figures on benefit fraud during his speech to announce the Comprehensive Spending Review last week.
While George Osborne claimed that £5bn was being lost each year to fraudulent benefit claims, the church and charity leaders said the real figure was closer to around £1bn a year.
We agree with the Government that benefit fraud is a serious offence, but implying that the poorest perpetrate this offence three times more than is the case is clearly unjust, they said.
The fact that issues around welfare reform are vital to the social and economic future of this country means it is imperative that the debate is informed by accurate information.
The leaders also suggested that the Government rhetoric on benefit fraud was misrepresentative of the reality facing poor people. Our experience of working in deprived communities is that life on benefits is often a struggle, with difficult and stressful financial choices being a daily occurrence, they said.
We believe this reality is not well reflected in Government statements and needs to be at the heart of any debate on welfare reform.
The letter has been signed by a number of Christians, including the Rev Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Simon Loveitt, spokesperson on Public Issues for the United Reformed Church, the Rev Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church and Society Council in the Church of Scotland, and Lt Col Marion Drew of The Salvation Army. Christian Today