According to the leaders, the government’s reform policy could push thousands of children deeper into poverty and even make some people homeless.
The Coalition spends £192bn a year on welfare and wants to get adults back into work by limiting benefits for out-of-work households to £500 per week for couples and families with children.
However, 18 Church of England bishops warn that the proposals could have a ‘profoundly unjust’ impact on society’s poorest children.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams threw his weight behind the Bishops’ criticism claiming the proposed benefit cap would spell doom for poor families.
In an open letter to The Observer, the group said: ‘While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children’s Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless.
‘The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice.
‘As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.’
The letter was signed by the bishops of Bath and Wells, Blackburn, Bristol, Chichester, Derby, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, London, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Ripon and Leeds, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
According to The Observer their message has been backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is president of the Children’s Society, and the Archbishop of York.
Warning: The Bishops claim that the benefit caps will make the situation worse for those living in deprived areas
The criticism comes after a humiliating internal row within the church over its stance on the St Paul’s Cathedral anti-capitalist protests, which led to two high profile resignations.
The bishops are supporting a series of amendments to the welfare bill – set to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow – which have been tabled by the Bishop of Leeds and Ripon, John Packer and drawn up with the help of the Children’s Society.
The Society’s Chief Executive Bob Reitemeier has said that the benefit cap ‘would be a giant step backwards that will harm society’s poorest children’.
The charity has proposed that the bill should be altered to remove child benefit from household income for the purposes of calculating the level of the cap.
The charity also put forward the option of removing certain vulnerable groups from the cap, and providing a grace period for newly unemployed families.
The idea of limiting the benefits to larger families was first suggested by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt last year.
Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott has also criticised moves to cap benefits for big families. She said: ‘We need to be extremely careful about using children as a tool to change adults’ behaviour.’
Some benefit payments, however, will rise by 4.5 per cent from next April in line with inflation – despite salary increases for those with jobs averaging 2.5 per cent.