The Bishop of Birmingham responds to the Budget


08 March 2017

Responding to the Chancellor’s Budget Statement, the
Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, Convenor of the
Bishops in the House of Lords, said:

As we begin to consider what the UK outside the EU will look
like, we need to commit to policies that will promote healing over
further division, care for the environment, a bias for social
justice and a renewed focus on the most vulnerable.

I recognise the dilemma of balancing the need to reduce
national debt and the deficit while ensuring there is proper
targeted support and investment where it is most
needed.

Addressing the developing crisis in social care funding has
to be central to that, so I am encouraged by the Chancellor’s
announcement of £2 billion over three years, but as the Chancellor
himself said this needs to be placed  on a more sustainable
footing. I therefore look forward to the Green Paper in the autumn,
to which the Church of England will no doubt respond.

The priority for an improving school system should be to
ensure that this is made possible for each person, no matter the
circumstances into which they are born or the struggles they may
face as learners. The Church’s fundamental commitment in providing
schools is that every pupil should be enabled to flourish, whatever
their background. I welcome the announcement of extra funding for
technical education and the proposed T-level which should give a
fresh emphasis to equipping young people with the technical skills
our society needs.

Investment in infrastructure and creating a climate where
businesses can thrive is welcome and will help to insure us against
shocks to the economy that EU withdrawal might yet bring.
Supporting small independent businesses is vital to our economy and
I will look closely at the steps the Chancellor has announced to
alleviate the impact of the business rates rise.

A bias towards justice must mean that the fruits of any
economic upturn are felt first by those who are most struggling. As
research from a number of national charities has shown, a
combination of benefit freezes and a rising cost of living is
putting pressure on living standards and an increase in child
poverty for those already on the margins, with more families facing
the prospect of having to prioritise debt repayment over family
essentials. I welcome the continuing rise in employment levels but
remain concerned about levels of in-work poverty.

Churches, charities and civil society have a key role to
play alongside Government in helping to alleviate these problems,
but a safety net needs to be well maintained. I am concerned by
reports from the Charities Aid Foundation that nearly one in five
charities report they are struggling to survive, rising to a
quarter for smaller charities. Though not mentioned by the
Chancellor in his speech, the doubling of the rate of Insurance
Premium Tax over the past 18 months is just one area that
Government might re-examine, given the disproportionate impact it
has on charities and churches.

The House of Lords will debate the Budget statement next
week and bishops will respond in further detail then.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Notes:

The Bishop of Birmingham, Rt. Revd David Urquhart, is Convenor
of the Bishops in the House of Lords and is their lead on economic
and financial policy matters. He also serves on the House of Lords
Select Committee on Financial Exclusion.

The House of Lords will debate the detail of the Chancellor’s
Autumn Statement on Tuesday 14th March. The Bishop of Chester is
expected to take part in the debate.

See recent research from:

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

https://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/budget-needs-be-serious-about-society-everyone

The Children’s Society 
http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/press-releases/600000-families-spending-more-on-repaying-problem-debts-than-on-food

End Child Poverty Coalition 
http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/benefit-freezes-and-poverty-premium-leave-struggling-families-out-in-the-cold/

Charities Aid Foundation 
https://www.cafonline.org/about-us/media-office/nearly-one-in-five-charities-struggling-to-survive

Charity Tax Group:  
https://www.charitytaxgroup.org.uk/news-post/2017/ctg-review-planned-insurance-premium-tax-increase/