Labour defiant after bishops brand it 'morally corrupt'

LABOUR MPs hit back yesterday after the government was accused of being "morally corrupt" by church leaders. The clerics blamed Labour for increasing the divide between rich and poor and encouraging people to get into debt.

Five Church of England bishops spoke of a range of concerns, complaining that the less well-off were being offered little help to survive the recession in comparison to the scale of the banking bailout.

The Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, said: "The government believes that money can answer all of the problems and has encouraged greed and a love of money that the Bible says is the root of all evil. It's morally corrupt because it encourages people to get into a lifestyle of believing they can always get what they want."

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The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, said there was a "sense of hopelessness".

The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the Bishop of Hulme, said the government's policy of encouraging people to spend their way out of the recession was "morally suspect and morally feeble". He said: "It is unfair and irresponsible of the government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy."

But senior Labour backbencher Sir Stuart Bell, who represents the Church in the Commons, said: "Not only is the government seeking to help those on lower incomes, it is leading the fight in the Third World to relieve poverty."

John McFall, the Labour chairman of the Treasury select committee

, agreed that people needed to take more responsibility and "defer gratification" instead of borrowing money to buy what they wanted.

Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne said the government was determined not to "walk on by" and was helping families and businesses.

SNP MP John Mason said the "withering attack" reflected wider concerns. "A government that would rather spend billions on a new generation of Trident weapons of mass destruction instead of working to eradicate poverty is one that has lost its moral compass," he said.

Tory spokesman Chris Grayling said the bishops had highlighted a "wasted decade" under Labour. He said: "So much more could have and should have been done to tackle our broken society and Gordon Brown was fundamentally wrong to build up a mountain of debt."