Row over plan to force workshy into unpaid manual labour jobs

Government plans to force the long-term unemployed to do unpaid manual labour came under fire from Labour, unions, charities and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will this week unveil plans for four-week programmes of compulsory community work, doing jobs like litter-picking or gardening, for jobless people deemed to have lost the work ethic.

Cabinet colleague Danny Alexander said the work activity placements would be used as a "sanction" against benefit claimants who fail to take advantage of available support to find employment.

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But Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the plan was not fair and could drive vulnerable people into despair.

Dr Williams said: "People who are struggling to find work and struggling to find a secure future are, I think, driven further into a sort of downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair, when the pressure is on in that way.

"People often are in this starting place, not because they are wicked or stupid or lazy but because circumstances have been against them...and to drive that spiral deeper does seem a great problem."

Under Mr Duncan Smith's plans, job advisers will be able to direct jobseekers who they believe would "benefit from experiencing the habits and routines of working life" to undertake a 30-hours-a-week work placement.

The scheme is expected to be targeted at thousands of claimants believed to have opted for a life on benefits or to have an undeclared job on the side.

Anyone refusing to take part could have their 65-a-week Jobseekers Allowance stopped for at least three months.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander said there were five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy in the country. "The tragic flaw in the Tory approach is that, without work, it won't work. A longer dole queue will mean a bigger benefits bill."