Was the church right to intervene in the debate about food banks and benefit cuts? I argue in my Telegraph column today that it was – but that the way the 27 bishops (more have since spoken out to support the letter to the Mirror – and Justin Welby has agreed with their argument that benefit cuts are pushing up food bank demand) intervened says a number of interesting things about the Church of England today.
But there is another interesting question worth asking, which is not what would Jesus do but what would Labour do? As I explained earlier in the week, the party finds these attacks from church leaders very useful at the moment as it feeds into the Opposition narrative about government failure.
But how will Labour deal with food banks if it is elected into government in 2015? Does it expect the demand to go down?
The party has promised to scrap the ‘bedroom tax’, which makes sense because it is a rarity among benefit cuts in that it doesn’t poll spectacularly well, but that is only one cut. And Labour has accepted that it will need to cut benefits after 2015, although beyond its support for the overall cap on welfare spending and ending universalism for pensioner benefits, it’s not clear what sort of cuts the party will make. Officials in the Treasury and DWP, though, will be working on cuts they can suggest to whichever party arrives in government in 2015, just as they did in 2010.
Given anyone who isn’t trying to spin for the government accepts that there is a link between benefit cuts and food bank demand (although the size of the link is up for debate), Labour will also have to accept that its own cuts to the social security budget would have a similar effect.