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The most prominent cleric in England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, has slammed the government's welfare reforms, which he says have caused a "real dramatic crisis" for people in need.
The Archbishop of Westminster said the system of social assistance has become "more and more punitive".
"So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait and they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing - with nothing," he added.
The Archbishop has been chosen among 18 other senior clerics from around the world to serve in the Vatican's conclave, which will elect the next Pope.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said the government's austerity measures have left people facing "hunger or destitution" which is "quite frankly, a disgrace."
Archbishop Vincent Nichols told The Daily Telegraph that the public accepted a need "to tighten our belts" but added that the Coalition had destroyed "the basic safety net."
"People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure," Nichols said.
But he said the welfare system had become more unwieldy for those who need it most, calling the changes "a disgrace".