Churchmen tried to delay jobs report beyond election

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The Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales tried to delay the publication of a controversial church report on unemployment until after the general election.

A spokesman for Dr George Carey said yesterday he had wanted to avoid the report - which is likely to be interpreted as anti-government - being "hijacked" by the parties and used as "soundbite" fodder by politicians.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev David Sheppard, a backer of the report which is due out on 7 April, confirmed yesterday that both Dr Carey and Cardinal Basil Hume had proposed and argued for "another timetable". However, he suggested that those behind the 18-month study have resisted the pressure and have stuck with a publication date likely to coincide with a general election campaign. The Bishop, who retires this year, said on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme: "They put to us another timetable. We have taken that argument very seriously [but] they respect our right to make the decision."

The direct intervention by such senior figures was interpreted by some as a desire for parts of the hierarchy of both churches to avoid getting dragged into a political slanging match in the sensitive confines of an election campaign.

Equally, Dr Sheppard - who has already attacked Labour and the Tories for pandering too much to "comfortable" Britain at the expense of the poor - and others behind the Council of Churches report are keen for its contents to inform the political debate in the run-up to the election.

Dr Carey's spokesman said: "The Archbishop argued for a later date, out of the general election campaign, because he believes [the report] has the potential to be a very important document indeed." He did not therefore want it to get picked up by one or other of the parties, and "hijacked". However, he acknowledged the right of the report's steering group to choose the publication date.

A spokesman for Cardinal Hume said he had argued for a later publication date to stop it being overshadowed by the election and to ensure it got the attention it deserved.

Other church sources say the report is far more likely to gain worthwhile attention during an election campaign, and fear that Dr Carey and Cardinal Hume simply wanted to avoid a political row. The report, Unemployment and the Future of Work, though not party political in nature, will back a minimum wage and talk about the need for "good work" - not just low- paid, temporary and insecure jobs.