Cardinal Vincent Nichols believes government welfare cuts are "punitive".

Welfare cuts ‘casting people into destitution’ warns Church

Welfare cuts ‘casting people into destitution’ warns Church

The government's welfare cuts risk "casting people into destitution" the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has warned.

In an outspoken attack on Iain Duncan Smith's reforms, Cardinal Nichols said it was a "disgrace" that families are being pushed into poverty because of cuts to benefits.

"A family in destitution, in a country as wealthy as this is a disgrace that should not happen," he told Andrew Marr.

"I think the current welfare system does need reform and I don’t disagree on the principles with which the Government is working, but it cannot be at the cost of casting people into destitution," he added.

"I don’t believe that is motivational and in fact some of the priests who are there on the ground say it comes across as punitive."

He criticised the current rise in food banks and described meeting a woman who had burst into tears when handed food at one of the centres.

"That’s not a fantasy, that’s human lives," he added.

Nichol's continued attacks on the government's welfare reforms are a source of irritation in Downing Street. 

Speaking about Nichol's criticisms last month, David Cameron replied that "I respect his view but I also disagree with it deeply."

He claimed that there was a "moral case" for cutting welfare and insisted that the government's reforms would give people "hope" for the future.

The row follows a recent open letter from 27 Anglican bishops accusing the coalition government of forcing people to choose between 'heating and eating'.

"Half a million people have visited food banks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year," the bishops wrote.

"We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must 'heat or eat' each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years."