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By Samuel Miller

CHURCH leaders and high profile Christians from various walks of life have written an open letter (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/sites/ekklesia.co.uk/files/stephen_crabb_open_letter.pdf) to the new UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, asking him to stop cuts to support for disabled and sick people.

The letter has been coordinated by the think tanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare reform. Its signatories include four Church of England bishops, the Archbishop of Wales, and other senior figures, lay and ordained, across the spectrum of Christian denominations.

Specifically addressed to Mr Crabb as a Christian believer, the letter highlights the centrality of compassion and social justice in the Christian tradition. It declares that “now is the time to take stock and begin to adopt a different approach” from that of cuts to benefits and welfare support for the most vulnerable.

Following Mr Crabb’s reversal of the cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) overseen by his predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith, the open letter calls for further changes to PIP – including reverting to the previous mobility criterion, the ability to walk no more than 50 metres, rather than the current test of being able to walk no more than 20 metres.

Signatories also want the UK government to reverse the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) cut of £30 a week, to review the impact of benefit sanctions on the health of sick and disabled people, and to abolish the Bedroom Tax (spare room subsidy).

They further ask the new Secretary of State to “immediately examine the way your department [the DWP] has in the past responded to letters from coroners regarding the deaths of benefit claimants, particularly the Rule 43 ‘prevention of future deaths’ process.”

The Most Rev Barry Morgan, Anglican Archbishop of Wales, said: “When he was Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb considered evidence against the proposed Wales Bill and was prepared to change his mind about it. We hope he will be equally open-minded in his new role and will drive through the crucial changes needed for meaningful welfare reform.”

Distinguished historian Sir Tom Devine, who is a Catholic layman as well as the Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, described as “immoral” cuts hitting “the weakest in our society.” Christians “have a duty to oppose them unrelentingly”, he said in signing the open letter.

Virginia Moffatt from Ekklesia said, “After six years of devastating cuts to welfare that have caused intolerable misery and harm to sick and disabled people and their families, it is time for a new approach.

“The appointment of a new Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions provides a welcome opportunity to stop, reflect and find an alternative way of working. We hope that Mr Crabb will respond positively to the issues we are raising and agree to meet us and the sick and disabled people with whom we work.”

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