Britain is in a "very parlous state" morally because of a lack of vision about what kind of society we want, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The Most Rev Justin Welby warned churches and other community groups that there was a "shift of responsibility" and they could not simply be the "recipients" of other people's actions.
He said a vision of society for families and communities, in particular young people, had been "absent" for up to 30 years.
"It is a time for action by us, for our communities, in a way that there is an opportunity to do that has not been there for very, very many years," he told Citizens UK, a coalition of community organisations.
"For that to work, for there to be a building of cohesion, there has to be vision as to what kind of society we want and that is one of the things for families and for communities, particularly for young people, that has been absent in many ways over the last 20 to 30 years and has brought us to the very parlous state that we are in morally in many ways today."
Mr Welby warned his audience, gathered at Queen Mary, University of London, in the East End, against exaggerating the recession by describing it as the toughest ever time for families and young people.
"This should not be a time of pessimism, it should be a time for optimism," he said. "I think the time of the winter of 1940 probably beats today in terms of a tough time for families and young people, when almost every building in this area was damaged or destroyed by bombing - let's be real about this," he told his audience.
Mr Welby spoke about the churches' contribution to helping the poorest through work such as the food banks.
He said there needed to be an affirmation of "values" but he said the Church had in the past suffered from "institutional deafness" when listening to the values of others.
The meeting was attended by religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, and Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Other groups attending included community organisers and Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary.