On 5th December, the Bishop of Chester took part in the debate on the Autumn Statement, which was repeated in the House of Lords by the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Deighton.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, whenever a bishop speaks on economics I must emphasise that we preface it with St Paul’s statement: “I speak as a fool”. I fundamentally support the Government’s strategy of getting the deficit down. My question is about the cap and how that is going to operate. Somewhere in the Statement it says that 30% of tax is now collected from 1% of taxpayers. That is a signal of how disparities of wealth have grown in our society. It really behoves us to protect the weakest. My worry is that I see a sort of American scenario of a cap being introduced and benefits not being paid because the cap is there. How will this work, when social security benefits can rise and fall with events which nobody can control? It worries me that introducing another cap of an absolute sort without reference to other realities could end up almost undergirding the underclass, which I am afraid is a developing feature of our society. Can the Minister say a bit more on how this cap is going to work?
Lord Deighton: The cap is essentially a fiscal discipline to ensure that a very large part of our budget, which in the past has had no controls around it—and no opportunity to explain what is going on—is properly scrutinised. In the circumstances where there is justification for changing the cap, that will be done under the scrutiny of Parliament. The Chancellor has not introduced what the level of the cap should be but merely an operational measure to make sure that it is properly controlled, just as other parts of the budget are, and indeed so that all the questions and issues around the appropriate level of support for vulnerable members of society can be tackled independently. Those measures should be effectively targeted and that is also part of our welfare-reform programme.