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The Archbishop of Canterbury is no friend of the poor

By Tim Montgomerie
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I travelled to Easterhouse with Iain Duncan Smith on that eventful wet, grey day, nearly ten years ago, in which he dedicated his political life to fighting poverty. In literally hundreds of visits before that day* and many since I saw the reality of poverty in Britain today. Children who've never seen their father. Schools that fail to teach basic reading skills. Families where a parent has never worked. Communities encircled by loan sharks. Young lives ruined by drug addiction before they've even reached adulthood. Pensioners imprisoned in their homes by fear of crime.

That was the reality for millions of Britons at the end of the Labour years. The party that styles itself as the party of the poor had created a welfare system that discouraged couples from living together and which penalised work. It presided over an education system that saw millions of kids leave school without the skills necessary to compete for jobs that, in any case, Labour gave to immigrants from abroad.

Labour spent more money on fighting poverty than any government in history. It did so at a time when the British economy was at its strongest. But what happened to the most extreme forms of poverty and inequality? Things got worse.

Along comes a government determined to change things. It starts to fashion a benefits system that ensures work always pays. At a time of austerity it puts extra money into the education of the poorest and funds the largest ever number of apprenticeships. It cuts the defence budget, increases aid spending and launches a humanitarian mission to save the people of Benghazi. It maintains welfare payments to pensioners and protects NHS funding. It increases incentives to give to charity. It plans to massively increase relationship counselling and recognise marriage in the tax system.

And what does the Archbishop of Canterbury do? His silence during those Labour years is replaced by what Radio 4's Jim Naughtie called the strongest attack on a government from an Archbishop that he can remember.

WilliamsThe attacks are made in an article for the New Statesman (summarised by George Eaton here). I learn from 10 Downing Street that Dr Williams didn't even have the good manners to warn the government of his attack. He says nobody voted for the Coalition. Given there was a hung parliament, would he have preferred a minority Tory government?

At an event on the Big Society last night I was on a panel with charity worker Shaun Bailey and Big Issue founder John Bird. Bailey noted that the most miserable people in life are those who are most dependent on government. It's they who have complete dependence on an impersonal bureaucracy. Bird said charities couldn't rehabilitate people as fast as the state education and welfare systems were ruining people. Why is the Archbishop of Canterbury silent on these realities? The reality of a state that never sacks incompetent teachers, but puts the interests of union-employed staff before pupils?

We can't beat poverty by endlessly spending more and more money. We can beat poverty by strengthening the family, ensuring every child has a good education, by creating jobs for the British working class and by building a social network of innovative poverty-fighting groups. The Coalition is beginning that work and it is a tragedy that Dr Williams isn't celebrating it.

* From 1998 to 2001 I ran the Conservative Party's Listening to Britain's Churches exercises which included more than three hundred visits to poverty-fighting projects.


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