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U.K. Churches Warn Government
on Forced Employment
British churches have criticized a government plan to remove unemployment benefits from people who refuse to accept jobs offered by labor officers.
"There is a serious danger that people living in poverty will be stigmatized by government announcements that they are lazy or work shy," said the Rev. Alison Tomlin, president of the Methodist church in Scotland.
Iain Duncan Smith, the government minister for work and pensions, on November 11 laid out a new "contract" with unemployed people that would include removing benefits for up to three years from people who refuse to take work opportunities.
Smith told lawmakers that the new benefits system will improve the lives of 2.5 million poor people, and reduce the number of workless households by 300,000.
Churches and campaign groups said they welcomed plans for a simplified benefits system, but warned that the proposed reforms are based on inaccurate assumptions about the poor. "The government seems to assume that if people are forced into working they will comply and their lives will be made better," said Tomlin. "The poor we meet are seeking to better their lives in difficult circumstances. They are willing to work, but face difficulties in finding jobs, in meeting caring responsibilities and in living on the wages offered."
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church said welfare policy needs to be based on a realistic assessment of those living in poverty. "Rather than stigmatizing unemployed people, the government should be focusing on training, job creation and support for new enterprise," said the Rev. Ian Galloway, who heads the Church and Society Council of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Church of England, said he has "a lot of worries" about the plans. "People who are struggling to find work and struggling to find a secure future are, I think, driven further into a downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair, when the pressure is on in that way," he said. "People often are (on benefits), not because they're wicked, stupid or lazy, but because their circumstances are against them."