A group of leading Catholics have broken ranks to criticise Tory welfare reforms in a letter to Iain Duncan Smith which begins “We are fellow Catholics”.
The missive, published by Christian think tank Ekklesia, will come as a blow to the cabinet minister, whose religious convictions have provided a fig leaf for harsh reforms — describing unemployment as a “sin” and stating that his Catholicism is “integral to everything I do”.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives. However, we believe that they are in fact doing the reverse.
While the letter, which invokes a papal encyclical, also covers Work Capability Assessments and the chaos of Personal Independence Payments, its strongest language is reserved for benefits sanctions — comparing the treatment of disabled people to criminals:
“We were shocked to learn that your Department recognises sanctions can lead to a deterioration in the health of a claimant. Yet sanctions continued to be imposed. This, as a punishment for what may be a clerical or timekeeping error, seems excessive.
“We would not expect prisoners in our jails to be punished in this way, and would be grateful if you would consider whether it is an appropriate way to treat people who are unemployed, sick, or disabled.
The letter drops on the same day that leaked documents reveal that the government could be set to cut disabled benefits by £30 per week.