The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has strongly criticised government plans to make the long-term unemployed do unpaid manual labour for their benefits.
Along with social welfare experts, he says the proposal could push vulnerable people into a "downward spiral of despair".
The coalition government has been accused by critics of seeking to treat the long-term unemployed like criminals doing community service - rather than addressing the conditions and cases of joblessness itself.
According to the government's own figures, and those of a leading accountancy firm, the government's cuts programme, to pay for the financial mess created by speculative finance, could increase the existing UK level of unemployment from 2.47 million to nearly 3.5 million.
Dr Williams told BBC radio in the West Midlands: "People struggling to find work and a secure future are driven further into a downwards spiral of uncertainty, even despair, when the pressure is on in that way. People are often in this starting place not because they are wicked or stupid or lazy but because circumstances have been against them."
TUC senior policy officer Richard Exell declared: "The reason we have got such high unemployment isn't because of a problem with the work ethic, it is because there aren't enough jobs for people to do. We have got 2.5 million unemployed people and fewer than half a million job vacancies. Unemployed people are the victims here, not the villains."
Savitri Hensman, an associate of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, commented (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13504): "In the current economic climate, many people are aware that they, or their family members or friends, might find themselves out of work, struggling to cope with life on the poverty line. The thought they might then be publicly humiliated by being treated like thieves or vandals would not make them at all happy with the politicians who came up with this idea - which is unwise as well as unjust."