The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales says government cuts to social welfare are a "disgrace" and have left people facing hunger and destitution.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, soon to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis, told the Daily Telegraph that the way social benefits are handed out "has become more and more punitive."

He said: "For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace."

The Conservative-led government has slashed billions from public spending in a bid to curb Britain's deficit. But its critics say cuts to unemployment, housing and disability benefits are disproportionately hitting the poor.

Nichols said a safety net intended to "guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart."