The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called for a rethink of the way poverty is addressed in the UK.
Wider uptake of the living wage would combat “the anxiety of bare subsistence”, according to the two most senior figures in the Church of England.
The comments feature in a new book edited by the Archbishop of York.
The prime minister’s spokesman said the government would continue to help families out of poverty.
Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the church leaders’ intervention and warned that the country was at risk of returning to the social divisions of the 1980s.
In his introduction to the essay collection entitled “On Rock or Sand? Firm foundations for Britain’s future”, the Most Rev John Sentamu says the country is facing “a new poverty”.
Dr 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.”
“Once upon a time, you couldn’t really be living in poverty if you had regular wages. You could find yourself on a low income, but not living in poverty. That is no longer so.”
He continues: “Society has become a market society, with everything going to the highest bidder and the poor being left behind in the unceasing drive to increase the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.”
He also criticises politicians’ use of the phrase “hard-working families”, saying: “They should speak instead of ‘hard-pressed families’.”
Dr Sentamu is the chair of the Living Wage Commission, which published a report last year recommending a “step change” in the take-up of the living wage.
What is the living wage?
The living wage is based on the amount an individual needs to earn to cover the basic costs of living.
The living wage is set at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the UK.
The national minimum wage is significantly lower. Since October 2014, the national minimum wage has been £6.50 an hour for adults aged 21 and over, and £5.13 for those aged 18 to 20.
Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said he supports the idea in principle.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, favours making it part of his party’s manifesto for the next general election.
In a separate entry, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, refers to the need to “reimagine our economic landscape so that individuals and communities are no longer left behind”.
He echoes Dr Sentamu’s argument for wider adoption of the living wage, claiming it would help create “a society where our economic policies are led and governed by our values, and not vice versa”.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, Dr Sentamu said welfare should be nothing more than a “safety net”, not a long-term solution.
Raising living standards
“It is the disparity of incomes that really causes most of all this difficulty,” he said.
“Unless we address it, we’re still going to find our people trapped, making these choices which I think are not really good for them, for their family, for everybody else.”
A spokesman for the prime minister said it was a matter of rebalancing the economy – introducing city deals, enterprise zones, and cutting tax.
He said the prime minister was clear about the importance of raising living standards.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said church leaders were saying “very clearly” that they did not believe the Prime Minister’s promises.
The archbishops both present a case for the Church’s continued role in public life, stressing that their arguments are not aimed at a particular government or party.
In Dr Sentamu’s conclusion, he refers to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury’s 1985 Commission on Urban Poverty, “Faith in the City”.
That report was condemned at the time, according to John Campbell’s biography of Baroness Thatcher, with one minister describing it as “pure Marxist theology”, while another Conservative MP said it had been written by “a load of Communist clerics”.