Budget 2016: What Christian charities thought of 'social justice by Conservative means'

Colleagues congratulate the Chancellor as he sits down after his eigth budget speech. Theresa May (right), is one of Osborne's rivals to be next leader of the Conservative party.Reuters

George Osborne made another pitch to be next leader of the Conservative party on Wednesday as he attempted to show he had a concern for poorer households.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said his eighth budget in the role was one of "social justice delivered by Conservative means".

"This is a budget that puts the next generation first," he told MPs.

However in his response the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the budget had "unfairness at its very core". He quoted a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which suggested the poorest have suffered the greatest proportional impact as a result of cuts to government spending.

"If he can afford giveaways to certain business sectors why can't he afford to protect the dignity of disabled people?" asked the leader of the opposition after it emerged 600,000 people with disabilities would be affected by changes to their benefits.

Osborne pointed to turmoil in global economies as a reason to balance the books. He said: "We must act now so we don't pay later."

Christian Today has compiled a range of reaction from Christian charities to the Chancellor's budget to assess whether he convinced voters of his concern for social justice.

The Children's Society bluntly said the budget "fails the next generation" in a direct contradiction to the Chancellor's claim.

Chief executive Matthew Reed said: "If the Government wants to put the next generation first it must confront child poverty head-on. Instead it is pressing ahead with a four-year benefits freeze that will hit 7.5 million children."

Reed added that although child poverty has fallen since 2010, half a million more live in "absolute poverty" and "without immediate action" many more would join them.

"If the Government wants to act now rather than pay later, it must invest in early intervention services in order to address problems before they become crises and make sure children can get the start in life they deserve," he said.

However The Centre for Social Justice, a think-tank established by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, praised a number of aspects in the budget.

"There is much in this budget that the CSJ welcomes," said executive director Philippa Stroud, Duncan Smith's former advisor. "We have campaigned for a help to save measure; mentoring schemes have had our support since we first recommended home-school support champions; a commitment to tackling rough sleeping in our cities is crucial; and the raising of the National Living Wage so that work pays through earnings is vital."

However she said it failed to truly be a budget for the next generation because it did invest in "strong stable families". Stroud called for an "early intervention programme that will ensure that if you are born into a family that wants to care for you but does not know how, they are given all the skills to do so, and if you are born into a family that cannot care for you, you receive all the support you need before it damages you."

Osborne's slogan "social justice by Conservative means" is likely to become a feature of his campaign to be next Tory leaderReuters

The Christian lobby group CARE added to scrutiny over families. It said the failure to expand the tax break for married couples was a "key omission" in Osborne's search for a social justice focused budget.

CEO Nola Leach told Christian Today: "Given the public benefits of marriage for couples, children and communities, it does not make sense that we should make the option of marrying fiscally less accessible in this country.

"Family breakdown is costing £47billion a year and so there is an urgent need for a significant rethink to make sure family responsibilities are properly recognised in our tax system."

She continued: "An expanded marriage tax break not only sends out an important social message about marriage it also is the first step to correcting the current bias in our tax system against traditional, one-earner families."

Among the measures leaked ahead of the budget was a package worth £115m to tackle homelessness, which is a key aspect to the Chancellor's new-found heart for social justice.

The chief executive of Housing Justice gave a cautious welcome to the announcement.

Alison Gelder said: "As we welcome the Chancellor's apparent realisation that something needs to be done to help people who are a long way from being able to take advantage of home ownership deals, we at Housing Justice will be watching what happens carefully so that our supporters in churches can hold him to account, ensuring that the promised funds are delivered."

She added: "We need to see how this announcement fits with the proposed limits on local housing allowance that are the axe hanging over thousands of supported housing projects that are currently housing homeless people, as well as accommodation in domestic abuse refuges and sheltered housing for elderly and disabled people."

The Chancellor's phrase "social justice by Conservative means" is likely to be repeated again and again as the campaign for Tory leadership intensifies. Interestingly the line was not in the original text of his speech published by the Treasury so it was a rare impromptu addition from Osborne. 

Christian charities are evidently unconvinced it was a wise move.