Ranters of Mow Cop

Ranters of Mow Cop

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Faith on the Job...

A piece about church based job clubs I wrote for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph
Sarah Sugden is just one of over 35,000 Lancashire people who are counted as unemployed in 2013. And that figure takes no account of the many more who are in short term, part time, irregular and low paid work who cannot, or don't wish to claim Job Seekers allowance.  Last week Sarah's child had an asthma attack and instead of going to school spent Thursday morning at the doctors with her mum. Sarah was supposed to sign in at the Job centre that morning, but in her concern for her child forgot all about it. By the end of the week she discovered she had been sanctioned, all her benefits had been stopped for the next month. Destitute and with no food in the larder she manged to get referred to the local food bank and was given a parcel of tins and pasta which should have helped her feed the family for the best part of a week. However, when she got home she found the gass had run out and she still had no money to charge up the key meter at the usual high tariff rate. Without a working cooker the free food was pretty useless.

Sarah herself is fictional... but her story is becoming desparately familiar to church and community projects working with the unemployed. Our Together Lancashire network which attempts to tackle poverty together through Christian social action, is in touch with churches and social projects from Fleetwood to Pendle. In Preston and Blackpool several churches are running work clubs, weekly meetings for unemployed people, where volunteers support them in preaparing CVs, writing job applications and searching for vacancies. Vacancies are scarce, such jobs as there are tend to be low paid and hardly worth taking by the time you've paid the bus fares, many people just don't have the right skills or experience necessary, and many are daunted by having to apply online when they have never used a computer, and find reading and writing difficult, especially when faced with the gobbledegook of application forms. Job Centres make customers sign an agreement that they will apply for ten or more jobs a week, and if you don't you lose your money. In one case we have heard of a non-driver being sanctioned for not applying for a post as an HGV driver. In Cleveleys and Fleetwood the local Christian Advocacy service has been supporting people in taking such decisions to appeal. They say one of the biggest problems is that people with mental health difficulties are ofetn found fit for work, when they are just not able to hold down a job. Across the county food banks run by local churches and supported by all sorts of people in different faith communities are overwhelmed as the practice and policy of making people destitute becomes more evident every month.

Christian churches are beginning to get angry with this growing injustice. In the past there has been a mixed picture in serving the needs of the unemployed. One recent national survey by the Evangelical Alliance ("Working Faithfully") suggests that a third of churgoing Christians who had faced unemployment in the past    had received no practical help beyond prayer and moral support when they lost their jobs. And only 9% went to churches where a specific project to help the unemployed was being run. However on a brighter note 58% said their churches now  offered practical help to members who had lost their jobs and 40% to people in the wider community. There is clearly a move among the churches to do more and plenty of practically schemes such as the recently launched Christians Against Poverty Job Club programme. These can help, even if it is often just in boosting people's confidence and lending a listening ear and sinposting needy people to other sources of help. But more needs to be done, through trainings and apprenticeships, through job creation via developing sustainable and socially responsible business that provide meaningful work, and through establishing the principle of the Living wage which is one of the best ways to ensure it pays to work rather than to depend on benefits.

Christians, and people of other faiths and none are beginning to show that they care about people who have no jobs. But the government also needs to be aware that more and more of us are getting angry about the injustices and the mistreatment, and the unfairness than many job seekers face from week to week.

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