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Universal Credit leaves people worse off, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Wed 12 Sep 2018
By Press Association

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted, saying it has left people worse off.

Most Rev Justin Welby received a standing ovation at the TUC Congress in Manchester when he attacked the benefits system, said the living wage should be higher and criticised firms like Amazon for paying "almost nothing" in taxes.

He also hit out at the so-called gig economy and zero-hours contracts, saying they were "nothing new", and adding: "It is the reincarnation of an ancient evil."

 

In a question and answer session after his speech, the archbishop was asked for his view on the Government's flagship welfare reform of Universal Credit.

"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 food banks.

"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 archbishop won applause from delegates for a section of his speech devoted to tax.

He said: "Not paying taxes speaks of the absence of commitment to our shared humanity, to solidarity and justice. If you earn money from a community, you should pay your share of tax to that community.

"I was in business, and I know that, within limits, it's right and proper for people to arrange their tax affairs, and for companies to do so.

"But 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.

"Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the gig economy is the only reincarnation of oppression of the vulnerable in employment.

"Pensions are just one example of the profit motive leading to the weakest being given the most risk and the strongest the most protection.

"In these areas, and in employment rights, and in many others, we see that where inequality and profound injustice seem entrenched, insurmountable, it leads to instability in our society: divisions between peoples, and vulnerability to the populism that stirs hatred between different ethnicities and religious groups, the rise of ancient demons of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia."

An Amazon spokesperson told Premier:

“We pay all taxes required in the UK and every country where we operate.

"In May 2015, to ensure we had the best business structure to serve our customers going forward, we established a local country branch of Amazon EU Sarl in the UK, with all retail revenues, expenses, profits and taxes due now accounted for in the UK.

"Amazon has created more than 25,000 good jobs with good pay and benefits across the country and since 2010 have invested over £9.3 billion in the UK.

"We’re proud of the work our teams do every day, and all permanent Amazon fulfillment centre employees are given stock grants, which over the last five years were on average equal to £1,000 or more per year per person.

"Employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package, including private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals and an employee discount, which combined are worth more than £700 annually, as well as a company pension plan.”

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