Government plans to force the long-term unemployed to do unpaid manual labour could drive vulnerable people into a "downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair", the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
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.
His Cabinet colleague Danny Alexander has 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.
But the proposal came under fire from Labour and the unions, with the TUC warning that it would harm jobless people's prospects of finding paid work and would undercut the employment of existing manual labourers.
Asked about the proposed scheme, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, told BBC WM Radio: "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 this way."
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-hour-a-week work placement.
Postings are likely to be provided by charities or councils and will be designed to offer the jobseeker the opportunity to gain work discipline and skills while benefiting their local community. They will be required to continue seeking permanent work while on a placement.
Anyone refusing to take part or failing to turn up on time could have their £65-a-week Jobseekers Allowance stopped for at least three months.
Details will be unveiled in the Welfare Reform White Paper expected in the coming week, which will set out Mr Duncan Smith's plans for a universal credit to reduce welfare dependency and make work pay.
He 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."