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by Conrad Landin, Lamiat Sabin, Alan Jones
ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury Justin Welby demanded a halt to the shambolic universal credit rollout, called for a higher minimum wage and branded the gig economy “evil” in a rapturously received speech to the TUC Congress today.
He was given a standing ovation in Manchester for his attack on the benefits system and criticism of firms such as Amazon for paying “almost nothing” in taxes.
Adding to pressure on Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used Prime Minister’s questions to accuse her of “pouring petrol on the crisis” and “inflicting misery on the people of this country.”
The archbishop said the gig economy and zero-hours contracts were “nothing new,” branding them "the reincarnation of an ancient evil.”
Asked for his view on the government’s universal credit scheme, which has replaced numerous benefits with a single payment and caused chaos in its implementation, he said: “It was supposed to make it simpler and more efficient. It has not done that.
“It has left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears and foodbanks.
“When universal credit comes into a local area, the number of people going to food banks goes up.
“What is clear is, if they cannot get it right, they need to stop rolling it out.”
The excoriating attack by the archbishop, an Eton-educated former oil executive, coincided with Mr Corbyn taking the Prime Minister to task in the Commons.
He cited the Child Poverty Action Group warning that more children face suffering after half a million more youngsters have already endured financial hardships since 2010.
The government’s own survey has found that many households on universal credit are in debt, a third are in rent arrears and half have fallen behind on bills, he added.
He asked Ms May whether she disputes her own government's survey findings, but she dodged the question.
Mr Corbyn went on: “The government knows this policy is flawed or failing … We are all constituency MPs and I think most of us are all well aware of the pain universal credit is causing when people come for advice.”
He also mentioned that foodbank organisation the Trussell Trust backs a National Audit Office report warning that universal credit would cost more in the long run than the old system and that foodbank use is four times higher where the scheme has been introduced.
Mr Corbyn noted that, according to mental health charity Mind, there is “a real possibility” of many people with mental health problems losing out on benefits completely. He called it “outrageous.”
He concluded: “The PM is not challenging the burning injustices in our society. She’s pouring petrol on the crisis. When will she stop inflicting misery on the people of this country?”
Ms May resorted to saying that she has fought injustice by setting up the racial disparity audit and scrapping police stop-and-search powers.
Turning to the wider economy, Mr Welby, the most senior figure in the Anglican church, said: “Not paying taxes speaks of the absence of commitment to our shared humanity, to solidarity and justice.
“When vast companies like Amazon and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system.
“They don’t pay a real living wage, so the taxpayer must support their workers with benefits and, having leached off the taxpayer once, they don't pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, for health, for equality, for education.
“Then they complain of an undertrained workforce, from the education they have not paid for, and pay almost nothing for apprenticeships. Those are only a fraction of the costs of aggressive tax management.”
He warned that Brits should not “delude ourselves” with the belief that “the gig economy is the only reincarnation of oppression of the vulnerable in employment.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache commented: “The archbishop’s speech today shows that the greed and selfishness of corporate giants who leach off the taxpayer, keep their staff permanently insecure and exercise no level of responsibility to the communities they operate in is a matter for all of us.”
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