The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a fresh attack on David Cameron’s Big Society, saying it is perceived as “aspirational waffle”.
The concept is seen by the public as an attempt to hide a “deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable”, Dr Rowan Williams said.
The Archbishop’s criticism of the Coalition comes months before he is due to step down from his post and is contained in an as yet unpublished book.
“The big society, introduced in the run-up to the last election as a major political idea for the coming generation, has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which such ideals can be realised,” he writes in the book, Faith in the Public Square.
He continues: “’Big society’ rhetoric is all too often heard by many therefore as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable.”
The Government must be clearer about how individuals can become involved in the Big Society if it is to have any success, he suggests.
“And if the big society is anything better than a slogan looking increasingly threadbare as we look at our society reeling under the impact of public spending cuts, then discussion on this subject has got to take on board some of those issues about what it is to be a citizen and where it is that we most deeply and helpfully acquire the resources of civic identity and dignity,” Dr Williams writes in the book.
The criticism, detailed in The Observer, is the latest in a series of public attacks the archbishop has made about Mr Cameron's vision of a “Big Society”.
Last year Dr Williams described it as a “stale slogan”, viewed with “widespread suspicion” and as “an opportunistic” cover for cuts.
Only six months after the Big Society’s launch he said gave it “only two and a half cheers”, adding that he was concerned that it looked as if the Government was “washing its hands” of some of its responsibilities.
Although the Big Society officially remains one of the Coalition’s key policies, Mr Cameron has spoken less and less about the concept in recent months.
There has been no dramatic increase in charitable giving or volunteering since the policy was launched, and some of the ideas lauded from the outset – including a “Big Society Day” – have yet to materialise.
The forthcoming book, due to be published in September, also includes extracts from the Archbishop's past speeches on a wide range of subjects.
He is critical of Britain’s intervention in Iraq, saying the war’s cost “seems to beggar the imagination”.
The Archbishop also warns that secular critics of religion fail to see that spiritual leaders are committed to a debate about the “common good” and are not intent on “coercion” and “institutionalised inequality”.
He laments the way elderly people are “marginalised” by society, saying they are made to look “pathetic” by an “obsessively sexualised” society.
Earlier this year Dr Williams announced he was stepping down from his role as spiritual head of the Anglican Communion to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
The Church of England is in the process of seeking his successor and is expected to announce a name in the autumn.