THE Bishop of Carlisle is to lead a county wide investigation into the effects of central Government welfare reforms.

The Rt Rev James Newcome will chair a County Commission which will review the impact of current and proposed reforms.

It has been established at the request of the Cumbria Leaders’ Board which is made up of key public and third sector leaders in the county.

Evidence from charities, community organisations and individuals will be collected over the coming months.

Bishop James, who is the Church of England’s lead bishop on healthcare, said: “This is a vitally important body of work and one which I’m sure will demonstrate directly the frontline impact of welfare reforms.

“It’s our Christian duty to ensure all in society are cared for and protected and that any reforms do not unfairly penalise people.

“I would urge anyone who has concerns to register those with the commission through the proper channels. This will allow us to feed back to the relevant authorities all of our findings.”

As part of the commission’s schedule four special hearings are to take place across Cumbria to enable people to give evidence.

One will take place at Shap on March 10.

The commission will also look to collect a body of evidence including written reports and case studies from organisations as well as direct testimony; all offered with full anonymity for participants.

The commission has three main objectives; to understand the impact of welfare reform in the county, to respond with ways to minimize the impact and to publish and promote their recommendations.

In particular the commission will focus on changes to ‘in work’ benefits and the impact on families, changes to the way in which benefits are assessed, changes that impact on young people particularly around employment issues, changes relating to housing benefit, changes to support to individuals with disabilities and issues around rurality and digital and physical access to information and claims The commission will feed back findings and recommendations to the Third Sector Network and Cumbria Leaders’ Board.

Bishop James added: “We are asking charities, churches and community organisations to firstly provide any information or reports currently available on the impacts on their service users.

“Secondly we would like organisations to nominate and support clients to attend and give evidence to the Commission. And thirdly we want to interview representatives of organisations helping people.”

The commission’s findings will be reported in June 2014.