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Cameron defends economic record after attack from Archbishops

[LONDON] UK Prime Minister David Cameron defended his government's record on tackling economic hardship after it was criticized by the two most senior clerics in the Church of England.

Mr Cameron said he "profoundly disagreed" with the analysis of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in a book to be published on Jan 20. The book, dedicated to "hard pressed families on poverty wages," says not enough is being done to address poverty and wealth inequality in Britain.

"I profoundly disagree with some of the things that they are saying," Mr Cameron said during a visit to Washington. "We are tackling poverty by giving 1.75 million more people a job in our country - actually, under this government inequality has fallen, so I don't think the picture they paint is accurate."

In the book, entitled "On Rock or Sand," Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, raise questions about low wages, the lack of affordable housing and the geographical inequality that leaves towns and regions away from London and the southeast of England "trapped in an apparently inescapable economic downwards spiral."

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Welby directly challenges Mr Cameron's slogan "all in it together," citing the deprivation near the financial centers of the City of London and Canary Wharf to illustrate that poverty and wealth can be found in close proximity.

"There is poverty around the corner from every multi- million and multi-billion pound industry -- individuals and families similarly trapped in apparently inescapable circles of despair," he writes. "We cannot rely solely on the invisible hand of the market to restore justice, for the market has no sense of value other than net present value."

Mr Cameron countered that there has been growth beyond London and the southeast as Britain recovered from the financial crisis of 2008.

"Far from leaving cities behind, we're rebalancing the economy and you can see real growth in cities like Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds -- indeed some two-thirds over the last year has come from outside London and the southeast," Mr Cameron said.

Archbishop Sentamu, who edited the book of essays, singled out low wages in jobs created since the financial crash as a driver of inequality, poverty and division.

"We are a developed economy and a first-world country, so how can it be that in this day and age we are seeing malnutrition, food poverty and energy poverty at such levels in our country?" Archbishop Sentamu writes.

"The poor in this 'age of austerity' experience what I call a 'new poverty,' where many of the 'new poor' are in work."

Mr Cameron, who describes himself as a Christian, defended the archbishops' right to air their views.

"I've never complained about the church for getting involved in political issues," he said. "They have a right to speak out as long as they don't mind when I speak pretty vigorously in defense of the excellent economic and social record of this government."