Welby speaks out over inequality

Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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There is a problem of widening inequality which has left London feeling like a “different country” to the rest of the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said there was a “big challenge” to ensure other parts of the country felt the benefits of the economic recovery along with the South East.

His comments are the latest in a series of interventions by church leaders raising concerns about the shape of the economy.

He told ITV News: “T here remains a significant level of inequality, which is widening. And certainly having moved down to London only two years ago, having lived away from London for 25 years, you felt as though you’d moved into a slightly different country.”

The Archbishop, a former oil executive, was Bishop of Durham before becoming the head of the Church of England.

He said the recent economic news was “very good”, but added: “The point is, though, will the economy grow equally across the whole country?”

The imbalance between the South East and the rest of the UK had existed “for generations”, he acknowledged.

“The big challenge if we’re going to rebalance, is that areas outside the South East get the same level of investment, and growth, and strength and increase in average incomes as the South East does.”

Asked if that was possible to cut poverty at a time when the Government was planning further squeezes on spending, he said: “I’m not a good enough economist to answer that and it depends how much you cut government spending.”

He added that he was not arguing against reforms to the welfare system, but said “it’s a question of priorities”.

But he refused to be drawn on whether shrinking the state back to 1930s levels of public spending as a share of GDP, as the Office for Budget Responsibility said George Osborne’s plans will involve, was compatible with helping vulnerable people.

“That’s a party political question, I’m not going to answer it,” he said.

The Archbishop urged firms to pay the living wage to their staff, currently £7.85 an hour or £9.15 in the capital.

He said “increasing numbers” of firms and organisations were paying it – now including the Church of England.

“Increasing numbers do, and if we’re really honest, when we looked within the Church we found bits of our own operations that were not paying it, and we’ve changed that, and we’re a charity and we can do it.

“And so yes, it can be done and it should be done. The living wage is what it says, it’s not two holidays in Bermuda every year.”

The Archbishop, who has been a high-profiled critic of payday lenders, said that despite the recent cap on the interest that can be charged “nobody should be relying on a payday lender on a regular basis”.

The Church Commissioners for England, which produces money to support the Church, announced last year the indirect investment exposure to Wonga in its venture capital portfolio has been removed.

The Archbishop ruled out re-investing in Wonga, saying: “I don’t tell them how to invest, we have our investment managers. But no, they’re not on the list of potential investors.”

Prime Minister David Cameron clashed with the Archbishop last week after he suggested that cities outside London were ” trapped in apparently inevitable decline”.

Mr Cameron said: “Far from leaving cities behind, we’re rebalancing the economy and you can see real growth in cities like Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds – indeed some two thirds over the last year has come from outside London and the South East.

“And some of the places where jobs are growing fastest and apprenticeships are growing fastest, where exports are growing fastest, are not in London or the South East.”

Responding to intervention from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Mr Cameron said: ” They have a right to speak out as long as they don’t mind when I speak pretty vigorously in defence of the excellent economic and social record of this government.”

Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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