Archbishop attacks ‘get to work or else’ threat
Dr Williams worried by Iain Duncan Smith's latest tough medicine for the long-term unemployed
The Archbishop of Canterbury said today that government plans to force the long-term jobless to do community work were "unfair". Dr Rowan Williams was speaking to BBC Radio West Midlands in the light of Sunday newspaper headlines about a proposal to order fit unemployed people to do compulsory manual work or risk losing their benefits.
The proposal comes from Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and is the latest in his tough programme of policies designed to persuade people that it pays to work. "The goal is to break into the habit of worklessness," an insider told the Observer ahead of Thursday's official launch of the proposal.
The compulsory jobs - or "mandatory work activity" - would be for at least 30 hours a week and would include gardening or litter-clearing or other manual chores that local town halls and charities come up with.
Anyone failing to complete the work would risk losing their jobseeker's allowance - currently £64.30 a week (or £50.95 for those under 25) - for three months.
Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Tory party in opposition, said: "One thing we can do is pull people in to do one or two weeks' manual work - turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm, to give people a sense of work, but also when we think they're doing other work.
"The message will go across; play ball or it's going to be difficult."
Duncan Smith was backed up a fellow former Tory leader, William Hague, when he appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show this morning.
Said Hague: "What we are talking about here is people who have not been used to working having both the opportunity and perhaps a bit more of a push as well, to experience the workplace from time to time and again the vast majority of people in Britain will think that's the right thing to do."
Neither Cabinet minister's line went down well with the Archbishop of Canterbury, however.
Dr Williams told Andrew Peach of BBC Radio WM: "People who are struggling to find work and struggling to find a secure future are - I think - driven further into a downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair, when the pressure is on in that way.
"People often are in this starting place, not because they're wicked, stupid or lazy, but because their circumstances are against them, they've failed to break through into something and to drive that spiral deeper - as I say - does feel a great problem."
Labour has not given an official response yet. Deputy leader Harriet Harman told the Andrew Marr Show she would respond after seeing the full details of Duncan Smith's proposals when they are officially revealed on Thursday.
However, she said if the coalition government wants to get people back into work, there have to be jobs for them to go to.
Jon Trickett, a shadow minister with a special interest in social exclusion, has already made his thoughts clear to the /Observer/ - saying Duncan Smith and his fellow ministers "should hang their heads in shame". ·
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