SS. Peter and Paul’s priest clarifies Archbishop of Westminster’s welfare reform comments

Father Andrew Headon

Father Andrew Headon - Credit: Archant

A prominent Catholic parish priest has strongly defended the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent concerns over the government social welfare reforms.

Father Andrew Headon, of the Catholic Church of SS. Peter and Paul’s, High Road, Ilford, believes Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ comments that the reforms are a “disgrace” for leaving people in “destitution” were misconstrued.

Speaking to the Recorder, Fr Headon said: “Archbishop Nichols actually said that it’s a disgrace that some people are living below the poverty line.

“He recognises that changes need to be made in the benefits system.”

The leader of the Catholic Church in England has since clarified his views, by saying: “I accept a reform of the welfare system is necessary. It is a complex, difficult thing to achieve.


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“I accept that these things were unintended consequences of reform.”

Amid much controversy the government reformed the benefits system in an attempt to get more people working last year.

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Radical welfare changes have seen several of this country’s Christian leaders warn the government to not let the poor slip further into poverty.

The latest in this line is Archbishop Nichols, who was quoted in a national newspaper, saying: “The basic safety net, that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution, has actually been torn apart. It no longer exists, and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.”

Fr Headon revealed Archbishop Nichols listens to all Catholic priests on the state of the poor across the country and, in turn, will relay back to them the extent of the need for pastoral care.

“Priests from around the around the country are telling him that this is the case,” said Fr Headon. “He is putting a benchmark out for the government that we have this reform but be careful.”

“It is my experience that times are tough, whether they have been tougher now than six months prior to this I am not sure – I am reliant on the Archbishop to have the data.

Fr Headon admits in his parish – which covers Seven Kings and Ilford – the number of people seeking help from his church has increased marginally in recent months.

“I am trying to think of individual cases where people have come to my door… has this gone up? Yes, slightly,” he explained.

“It is difficult. What we try not to do is hand over money at the door. There is a tendency if people out that money can be spent on alcohol and drugs.”

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