A Birmingham MP has hit back after senior church leaders, including the Bishops of Birmingham and Dudley, attacked plans to limit benefit increases.
The Rt Rev David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, and the Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Dudley, were among 43 churchmen who signed a letter criticising government plans to increase benefits by one per cent a year for the next three years, starting from April.
This is less than the rate of inflation is expected to be, which means benefits are being cut in real terms.
The letter, also signed by the Bishops of Lichfield, Worcester and Hereford, warned: “This is a change that will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty.”
But the Government’s plans were defended by Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley).
He said: “If inflation goes up then this will need to be looked at, but we need to find savings.
“Where do the bishops propose we get the additional money?”
The Bishops called on the House of Lords – whose members include the Bishop of Birmingham - to “take action to protect children from the impact of this Bill”.
Labour MP Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill), the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, backed the Bishops, describing the benefit cap as a “strivers’ tax”.
But Conservative Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, insisted the changes were about fairness.
He said: “People who are paying taxes and working very hard have hardly seen any increases in their salary and yet, under the last government, the welfare bill rose by some 60 per cent to £200 billion.
"That means they have to pay for that under their taxes, which is simply not fair.
“That same system trapped huge numbers, millions, in dependency, dependent on the state, unable, unwilling to work.
“What is either moral or fair about that? That’s my challenge... over to the bishop.”
George Osborne, the Chancellor, will publish his Budget next week, as the Coalition Government prepares to introduce a range of tough benefit reforms on April 1.