Irish Church leaders to meet with Minister for Welfare Reform Lord David Freud

12 Dec 2011

Irish Church leaders meet with Minister for Welfare Reform Lord David Freud over impact of proposed welfare reform cuts on the vulnerable in Northern Ireland

  • Church leaders available for a short press conference immediately following their meeting with Lord Freud at the Department for Work and Pensions, London

Today Monday 12 December, the leaders of the four largest Irish Churches travelled together to London to express their ‘grave concern’ over the impact of proposed welfare reforms on the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland. The Church leaders had a private meeting with Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord David Freud, who was accompanied by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Owen Patterson MP.

Following the meeting with Lord Freud, at his offices in Caxton House in London, the Church leaders travelled to the Palace of Westminster where they met other Members of Parliament and the House of Lords involved in debating the Welfare Reform Bill as it passes through its final stages in the Houses of Parliament.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, said: “That all four leaders of the largest Churches in Ireland have set aside time before Christmas to travel together to London to make this approach to Lord Freud and his colleagues is a sign of just how concerned we are.  Successive studies have shown that Northern Ireland will suffer more than any other region of the UK from the reforms to social welfare being debated in Westminster today.  As Christian leaders we feel we have a responsibility to speak up for the most vulnerable in our society and for those in our congregations, especially children and their families who will be pushed even further into poverty by some of these reforms.”

Reverend Ivan Patterson, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said: “We want to support our local politicians in making Government in Westminster aware of the grave consequences of these reforms for the economy in Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland is already lagging behind other parts of the UK in terms of economic growth.  Because we have some of the highest levels of unemployment, poverty and disability in the UK these reforms will set us back even further by taking away money that people who really need it to survive spend every day in our fragile local economy.  We all support welfare reform if it reduces fraud and if it helps those who can to get back into work.  But we also have to ask Lord Freud and the Secretary of State to tell us where these jobs for people in Northern Ireland are going to come from in a time of dramatic cutbacks?  Is it wise to introduce these reforms to Northern Ireland given our unique circumstances as the region with greatest poverty and slowest economic growth in the UK?  We also want to ask: what is the moral imperative guiding these reforms?  When such efforts were made to save our financial institutions, what efforts are being made to protect the poorest among us?”

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Reverend Ian Henderson, said: “As someone who spent most of my ministry in the Republic of Ireland, I was shocked to discover the number of children and families living in poverty in Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland has some of the highest levels of childhood poverty in Europe and twice that of any other part of the UK.T  his has to be a matter of great concern for us all.  I am very happy to join my colleagues in the other Churches in raising our voices for the 40,000 children in Northern Ireland who live in severe childhood poverty.  Many of these children could be further disadvantaged by these reforms.  This is simply unacceptable in any decent, developed society and we will be saying that very clearly to Lord Freud and his colleagues.”

Cardinal Seán Brady, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said: “There is a lot of talk these days about a shared future in Northern Ireland.  Well, the terrible reality is that all traditions in Northern Ireland share some of the highest levels of child poverty, fuel poverty, disability and unemployment levels on these islands.

Today we are taking a united stand as Church leaders to say ‘give us a shared future which is a better future, not one that pushes Northern Ireland further back as the most impoverished region of the UK!’  We are at a critical stage of the journey to peace and a shared future in Northern Ireland.  We need investment for peace, stability and growth, not measures that leave tens of thousands of our young people without hope or a stake in a better future.  We know that our local politicians could take their own decisions on this matter but we want to support them in making the case to Westminster that Northern Ireland does have unique circumstances and that these differences deserve to be taken into account.”

Notes for Editors

  • The four Church leaders will depart for London on Monday 12 December from Belfast City Airport at 8:45am. They will be available for interview, by arrangement, via mobile phone on Monday morning before departure.
  • The Church leaders will be also available for a short press conference immediately following their meeting with Lord Freud at the entrance to the Department for Work and Pensions, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9DA.
  • The Church leaders will be accompanied throughout their visit to London by Fr Timothy Bartlett who can be contacted on his mobile at +44 7879 416685.
  • The Welfare Reform Bill is currently passing through the Houses of Westminster and will be debated in the House of Lords on Monday 12 December, the day of the visit of the leaders of the four largest Irish Churches.  It is estimated that the Bill will receive Royal Assent in early 2012. Corresponding provisions will be incorporated in a Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Bill, to be introduced through the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2012.
  • The incoming welfare reforms have been widely described as the most radical shake up of the UK social security system in over 40 years. The Welfare Reform Bill paves the way for the introduction of a ‘Universal Credit’ payment to replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for people of working age, starting from 2013. It will include the introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance, which will include a new ‘objective’ assessment process. There will be wide ranging measures and restrictions to Housing Benefit entitlement including caps on Local Housing Allowance payments.  Amendments will be also be made to child maintenance scheme tax credits, childcare costs and child benefit. Limits will be placed on payment of the contributory Employment Support Allowance to a 12 month period and caps will be placed on the total amount of benefit that can be claimed.  Changes will be introduced the State Pensions, pensions credit and the state pension age.
  • A recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that, after London (because it is a high rent area), Northern Ireland, will be the hardest hit by tax and benefit cuts announced and to be implemented under the Bill between January 2011 and April 2014/15.   This is primarily because of the high numbers of those in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, especially for mental health disorders, and the high number of families with children who will be adversely affected by cuts to social security.   The loss to Northern Ireland’s benefit recipients will be more than £600 million per year by 2014-15.


For further information please contact Father Timothy Bartlett on 0044 7879 416685 or the Catholic Communications Office, Martin Long 00 353 86 1727678.