Furore over Britain's manual labour plans for unemployed

9th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's government faced a furore Tuesday over plans to force people claiming unemployment benefit into unpaid manual labour in a bid to slash the country's huge welfare bill.

Under the scheme, claimants would have to carry out four-week placements of 30 hours a week doing tasks such as collecting litter, failing which they will see their weekly 65-pound (75-euro, 104-dollar) handouts stopped for three months.

The proposal, to be formally announced on Thursday, has drawn fire from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican church, as well as Britain's opposition.

Williams said on Sunday that he was "very anxious" about the plans, warning that they could result in a "downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair".

But Work and Pensions Minister Ian Duncan Smith rejected the archbishop's claims on Tuesday, saying that it was the "current system which locked people into despair."

"Our changes will make work pay and create the biggest package of back-to-work support ever seen," he wrote in an article in the right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper.

"Asking someone who has been out of work for a long time to get involved in a programme of work to boost their self-esteem is not a recipe for despair, but a way to repair their shattered lives."

Duncan Smith also accused opposition politicians who had likened plans to cap housing benefit payments to Nazi atrocities of trying to "scare as many people as possible for cynical, short-term gain".

Several British newspapers rounded on Williams for his comments.

The Daily Express described the bearded archbishop as a "hairy lefty" with "ivory tower" views, while The Times said he was overly interested in the subject at a time when he should be more concerned by the church's problems.

Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which knocked the centre-left Labour government out of power in May, last month unveiled the deepest spending cuts Britain has seen for decades.

The cuts are set to cost almost half a million jobs, slash government budgets by around a fifth and dramatically reduce the welfare state.

© 2010 AFP

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