THE Archbishop of York has slated the Government’s controversial ‘workfare’ scheme, suggesting it took advantage of vulnerable people by using them as free labour.

Dr John Sentamu said his heart sank when he heard about the work experience project, which he said encouraged young people to take on unpaid placements in companies with no guarantee of permanent posts, by “apparently threatening to cut their benefits if they drop out after a week”.

Writing in a column in the first edition of the new Sun On Sunday newspaper, he said: “We can encourage people to volunteer, but a worker should be worthy of their wages.

“What we need is a culture where young people not only want to work, but where their work is valued and contributes to the national good.

“By all means, pay companies incentives to employ young people, but do not take advantage of the vulnerable by using them as free labour.”

He said that earning a living wage should not be an optional extra, but should be seen as a basic necessity.

He also criticised high levels of unemployment that left about a million young people out of work.

The Archbishop’s comments came after Employment Minister Chris Grayling defended the scheme, saying that half of those who joined it after the launch 11 weeks ago had now found a job, often with companies which had offered them work experience.

The Minister also claimed that some firms reportedly pulling out of the programme, including supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, had never formally been involved in the Government initiative because they ran their own scheme.

Elsewhere in his column, Dr Sentamu revealed that he had gone vegetarian for lent, having given up dairy products and meat as well as alcohol.

He urged people to buy as many Fairtrade products as possible as Fairtrade Fortnight starts today.

He admitted that some would criticise him for writing in a newspaper which would be seen by many as filling the gap left by the closure of the News Of The World, but he said he was “always one for responding to change positively and embracing new beginnings”.