Catholic charities announce Church “watchdog” on Benefit changes

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Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the social arm of the Catholic Church has today announced that it will be monitoring the effect of benefit changes to ensure that vulnerable families are protected.

CSAN has consistently voiced its concern about many of the benefits changes that took effect last month (April 2013) including the introduction of the Under Occupation Penalty and the Household Benefit Cap, abolition of the Discretionary Social Fund and localisation of Council Tax Support. The organisation has warned that the cumulative impact of these changes could push many families below the poverty line.

CSAN comprises 41 member charities which work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the UK including refugees, prisoners, the elderly, disabled people and homeless people, as well as thousands of children and families living in poverty.

Focusing on 10 key indicators, the Benefit changes & cuts impact survey will chart the proportion of Catholic Charities’ service users who are struggling with debt, in housing need, struggling to meet food costs, foregoing basic utilities, unemployed or underemployed, suffering from mental health difficulties, experiencing family breakdown, experiencing social isolation, unable to access other services and/ or experiencing digital exclusion over the next year.

Announcing the project, CSAN’s Chief Executive, Helen O’Brien said:

“We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable people are not marginalised by these changes.

“CSAN has been vocal in our concern that the combined effect of these benefit changes could force families into unsustainable hardship.

“Catholic charities and parishes are already seeing the impact of these changes and facing rising demand for their services. They are reporting more families struggling to feed their families, experiencing difficulties with debt and living in inadequate housing.

“Collating this data will mean that we as a Church are better placed to respond to growing levels of social need and advocate on behalf of those most profoundly affected.”

Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice said:

“The localisation of benefits is changing the way welfare is provided in our communities.

“Volunteer-led services like Night Shelters which are delivered by churches are already plugging gaps in the social safety net as Local Authority services are reduced because of cuts.

“We plan to use our network to ensure a national safety net continues and so we need to collect and share information as never before.

“Homeless people are depending on us and we don’t want to let them down.”

Cathy Corcoran, Director of the Cardinal Hume Centre said:

“This survey will be vital in tracking the impact of the benefit changes across the services that we provide.
“We have already noticed that demand for our centre’s employment, housing advice and benefits advice has increased substantially since the beginning of April.
“We are anxious to ensure that our fears that these changes will cause the individuals to forego basic living needs and experience greater social isolation are averted.
“With the increasing squeeze on welfare, families are coming to us and other Catholic charities because they have nowhere else left to turn.”


The Benefit changes and cuts impact survey will be based on the perceptions of CSAN’s member charities’ and will be undertaken quarterly.
The data will be collected via a sliding scale comprising of 10 indicators. CSAN’s member charities will be asked:

Approximately what proportion (%) of your service users are:

  1. Struggling with debt or money management

  2. In housing need or insecure housing

  3. Struggling to meet family food costs

  4. Foregoing or limiting basic utilities

  5. Unemployed or Underemployed

  6. Suffering from mental health difficulties

  7. Experiencing family breakdown

  8. Experiencing social isolation

  9. Have been unable to access support services 

  10. Experienced digital exclusion

CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network)

CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) is the social action arm of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. It is a network of 41 charities whose ethos are rooted in Catholic Social Teaching. The member organisations work diversely across the field of social action including – families and children, prisoners, elderly people, homeless people and many others.

Housing Justice
Housing Justice is one of CSAN’s member charities. Housing Justice is the national voice of Christian action in the field of housing and homelessness. Housing Justice supports night shelters, drop-ins and hundreds of practical projects nationwide by providing advice and training for churches and other community groups who work with homeless people. For more information about Housing Justice or to donate to the charity please visit Housing Justice’s website.

Cardinal Hume Centre

The Cardinal Hume Centre is one of CSAN’s member charities. The Cardinal Hume Centre based in south Westminster provides homeless young people, families in need and local people the support they need to realise their full potential. The Centre focuses on four areas of need: income, housing, education and skills, and legal status. It offers advice on employment and money management; hostel accommodation for 16 – 21 year olds; housing advice and advocacy; English language and literacy, IT training, work experience, early years learning and parenting classes. The Centre also offers accredited immigration advice and advocacy. For more information about the Cardinal Hume Centre or to donate please visit the Cardinal Hume Centre’s website.


For more information on the Benefit changes and cuts impact survey, please contact CSAN’s Public Policy Officer, Liam Allmark