Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has criticised Church of England bishops for opposing the government’s £26,000-a-year cap on benefits.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he says the scale of the UK’s debt is the “greatest moral scandal” facing the country.
He says the welfare system is “fuelling vices and impoverishing us all’, and accuses the bishops of ignoring popular opinion by opposing the cap.
The government has insisted it will press ahead with the policy.
It wants to cap benefits at £500 a week for working-age families – equivalent to the average wage of £26,000 earned by working households – and £350 a week for single adults without children.
But five bishops, led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, arguing that the cap discriminated against families with several children.
They called for child benefit to be excluded from it – and were backed by Lib Dem, Labour and crossbench peers in the House of Lords on Monday, meaning the amendment was carried by 252 votes to 237.
But writing in the Daily Mail, Lord Carey – who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002 – said the bishops “cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground”.
“Considering that the system they are defending can mean some families are be able to claim a total £50,000 a year in welfare benefits, the bishops must have known that popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers,” he wrote.
“The sheer scale of our public debt – which hit £1tn yesterday – is the greatest moral scandal facing Britain today. If we can’t get the deficit under control and begin paying back this debt, we will be mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren.”
Lord Carey praised the efforts of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – whom he called a “committed Christian” – to overhaul a benefits system which, at its worst, “rewards fecklessness and irresponsibility”.