Catholic critics of Conservative minister Iain Duncan Smith have dismissed his response to their criticism of him after the Budget.
In their initial letter on July 2 the critics – who include clergy, academics and experts in social policy – told the Work and Pensions Secretary: “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. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
In his reply on July 14, published by The Tablet, Mr Duncan Smith said that “there is no evidence to suggest that sanctions have caused claimants’ health to deteriorate”.
In a response published yesterday, the critics said: “There is clear evidence from a number of sources that sick and disabled people have been harmed by cuts to welfare and social care.”
On the effects of sanctions, they quoted his own department’s guidance that “a healthy adult is likely to experience a deterioration in health if they are without essential items such as food or heating”. The guidance advised decision makers to “consider whether the health of a person with a medical condition is likely to decline further than a healthy adult”.
They added: “This guidance caused the writers of the Joint Public Issues Team’s Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions report to argue that ‘any human society should be disturbed by a statutory system that deliberately causes harm to another human being’.”
Mr Duncan Smith also said that “no one is sanctioned without first being made aware of hardship payments”.
The critics responded: “This does not fit with the experiences reported within the JPIT paper cited above, which found many people discovered they were sanctioned only when they tried to draw cash out from their bank.”
Among many other criticisms the Catholic group said they saw “no justification for the cut to the incomes of people” in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) made in the Budget.
They wrote: “People entitled to ESA and placed in the WRAG include those who are undergoing cancer treatment, and people who have progressive illnesses like Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. They have been assessed by your own department as not fit to work, which is why they are not on Jobseekers’ Allowance currently.
“They are certainly not in the same position as Jobseekers, and would not be regarded as such by employers. Allowing them a higher but still very modest income is not writing them off to a life on benefits, but simply showing some compassion and understanding of their situation.”
The critics’ letter ended: “We seek only to work with you in the pursuit of the common good as laid out in the principles of Catholic social teaching. Together we could ensure that we uphold the common dignity and value of every human being in need of assistance. We extend this invitation in the spirit of Christian justice and compassion and we look forward to hearing from you.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.