The Archbishop of Canterbury attacked Iain Duncan Smith’s plans for welfare reform over the weekend, telling the BBC it could drive people ‘into a downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair’.
But Suzanne Evans, former BBC religious affairs reporter, now creative director at Aquarius PR, says his comments are ‘a kick in the teeth to a lot of his congregation’ and will have no bearing on the plans for reform.
The surprise intervention by Rowan Williams comes as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith prepares to reveal controversial plans that would force the unemployed to undertake unpaid manual labour.
Evans told PRWeek: ‘I think what shocks me most is when he [The Archbishop of Canterbury] talked about how doing community work in exchange for benefits can make people feel vulnerable.
‘It’s surprising given that the Church encourages people to do volunteering work and there are hundreds of thousands of Christians up and down the country feeling anything but vulnerable by the community service they do. To link volunteering somehow with vulnerability is a bit of a kick in the teeth to a lot of his congregation.’
However, Dave McCullough, account director, Insight Public Affairs felt the Archbishop's input into the debate would have more impact.
He said: 'This is a surprisingly political statement by Dr Williams, but not the first time he's waded into a political row. Despite the turbulent time he has endured as the head of the Anglican Church and the schisms within the Church in recent years, Dr Williams is still an incredibly respected and popular Archbishop, in contrast with some of his recent predecessors.
'So his comments will have been noted, particularly as this policy is very much out of the right/Christian wing of the Conservative Party. Whether or not it will cause any change in policy – time will tell, but highly unlikely.'
In an interview, the Archbishop told the BBC: ‘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.’