Benefits anger, Brit Awards, Tony Blair and Britain's 'new servant class'

After days of public disagreement with Britain's most senior Roman Catholic, David Cameron faces what the Daily Mirror calls "a new backlash" from the clergy over the government's welfare policies.

Twenty-seven Anglican bishops are among more than 40 Christian leaders to have signed an open letter to the prime minister, expressing concern over the number of people using food banks and calling on the government to "ensure the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger". The Mirror's political editor Jason Beattie suggests the signatories "challenge head-on the churchgoing PM's claim his welfare reforms are a moral mission".

Independent cartoonist Dave Brown depicts Mr Cameron, his chancellor and work and pensions secretary as a Salvation Army band. However, the PM's drum has been smashed over the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols' head and their banner reads: "Starvation Army. Moral Mission to Demonise Paupers."

There is plenty of support for the prime minister elsewhere. In its editorial, the Daily Mail says he had no choice but to "slap down" the top Roman Catholic who, it argues, was making "ill-informed claims" with the "unmistakeable voice of Labour Liverpool, where the archbishop grew up".

"Mr Cameron was right to fill him in on such facts as the £6.25 increase in Jobseekers' Allowance under the Coalition, in a country that still spends £200bn a year on welfare," it adds.

The Daily Telegraph also suspects it's "a case of clerical error", saying the government deserves plaudits for its achievements in moving people from welfare to work. And it notes: "The two men might actually agree on more than meets the eye: the archbishop acknowledges that Britain has to balance its books for the good of everybody, and most of his criticism is of the very bureaucracy that Conservatives wish to reform."

'New servant class'

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There's welcome news for the government in the form of employment statistics, which show the number of people out of work fell by 125,000 in the three months to December, leading the Sun to declare: "Good job."

While the trend of job creation has slowed, the Financial Times says: "There are signs that wages growth is starting to pick up and underemployment is easing."

The Times is one of many papers to hail the record 14 million women in work, saying that female employment stands at 67.2%. However, the Independent says much of the rise is "down to more declaring themselves self-employed" and quotes one analyst as saying this "could hide large numbers putting in very long hours for little financial return".

Others, such as the Daily Express, focus on the number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers, which increased by 42,000 last year. One in every 10 new jobs created in Britain went to people from those countries last year, reports the Mail.

It quotes Labour MP Frank Field, a former poverty adviser to David Cameron, as saying: "A new servant class, equal to that of Downton Abbey times, has been recreated. The elite bring the servant class in when they want cleaning done, ironing, gardening, decorating and so on."

Despite this, the Guardian says: "The number of British workers in low-skilled jobs is rising at a much faster rate than the employment levels of foreign nationals in similar roles."

(Absent) Brits

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The Sun manages to combine music's Brit Awards with politics on its front page.

It quotes from "Best British Male" David Bowie's acceptance speech - delivered by his proxy, Kate Moss, wearing one of his Ziggy Stardust bodysuits. "Scotland, stay with us", she read, in an apparent reference to the independence debate.

As usual, the stars' sartorial choices provide as much material as the music, with the Daily Express picturing Kylie Minogue on its front and declaring her black PVC dress "a hit". The Sun's not so sure, however, as it declares her choice a "Space Oddity", as opposed to Beyonce's "Hunky Dory" effort.

The Mail reckons Kylie was "off-key" in examining who "hit a false note". Meanwhile, the Mirror scores the "Brit Parade" out of five, with only Pixie Lott scoring top marks. Its 3am section studies the ceremony menu, which started with Jerusalem artichoke and woodland mushroom terrine, moved on to harissa spiced lamb and ended with a cappuccino mousse.

And the Mail empties the contents of the winners' goody bags, pointing out that while female stars were treated to a £625 leather and suede bag and three £70 diamond bracelets, the men were "short-changed" with giveaways worth £600 less in total, at a mere £900.

(Non) Brits

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Some of the papers focus on the music, with the Times saying that - while Arctic Monkeys beat One Direction to the best group award - "a nominations list heavily skewed towards young, emerging musicians delivered few surprises elsewhere". However, its headline summarises events as: "Bowie stays at home but still steals the show."

For the Telegraph: "The superstar's disregard for the ephemera of glittering prizes is a reminder that the Brits are just showbusiness as usual. Real greatness cannot be measured in gongs."

And the Guardian's Alexis Petridis reckons the "predictable" awards ceremony was lifted by "getting acts who weren't British to turn up", with live performances from stars such as Pharrell Williams, Lorde and Beyonce.

A world away from Sochi

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While the eyes of the world are on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where the host nation's ice hockey team suffered a shock knockout by Finland, the papers point out that Russia is winning battles elsewhere.

"[President] Vladimir Putin is celebrating... geopolitical victory in the affairs of his most important neighbour," writes author Edward Lucas in the Daily Telegraph, as he describes how Europe's efforts to help violence-riven Ukraine towards "democracy and the rule of law have failed spectacularly".

Tuesday's clashes between pro-EU demonstrators and police in Kiev, which left at least 26 people dead, "could not be further removed from the harmonious atmosphere of the Winter Olympics", writes Michael Burleigh in the Daily Mail. "Yet both events have been masterminded by the sinister former KGB officer [Mr Putin] who is intent on re-establishing the 'glory' of the Soviet empire in all but name."

Author Dr Andrew Wilson compares the Kiev of football's Euro 2012 tournament "where there was a giant TV screen and beer tents" with that of this week, "where protesters and militia hurled rocks, petrol bombs, flares and rubber bullets". And he warns: "Ukraine is famously split between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east, with Kiev in the middle... the country might still be split between the regime's supporters and opponents if the violence in Kiev continues."

"It is a dark day for Europe when a government guns down its own citizens," says the Times in its editorial, as it demands our politicians "come off the fence". It says Brussels has a moral onus to defend youths who chose the EU and are dying for it. "The killing in Kiev has established an important principle for the EU: it cannot remain permanently neutral in neighbourhood conflicts."

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