21 June 2012
Unemployment in Wales
A Gweini conference in September will look at employment issues in Wales and how the Church can respond. It comes in the midst of challenging times for the economy in general, with many employment-themed conferences being given titles such as ‘The coming storm’ or ‘Hard times ahead’. Wales has some of the most deprived communities in the UK and the event will seek to enable church leaders to address the problem and find ways to help.
A July 2011 report by Sheffield Hallam University, Tackling Worklessness in Wales, estimated that Wales had 300,000 men and women of working age who were unemployed across Wales, with more than 180,000 of these on incapacity benefits. The Valleys also had the highest benefit claimant rates, not only for Wales but for Britain as a whole.
The Welsh government has responded in part by launching a new initiative, Jobs Growth Wales, which will create 4,000 jobs annually for unemployed young people aged 16-24. The scheme is in response to the many young people who currently find themselves unemployed and lacking work experience despite finishing their education with good qualifications. Funding from the Welsh government is available for up to six months’ employment at national minimum wage for employers that are interested in creating opportunities for these young people.
Among recent UK-wide Christian initiatives, Foodbanks have been among the most responsive to the needs of the long-term unemployed. Geared towards taking on volunteers, Foodbanks in Wales are playing a crucial role in helping unemployed individuals gain confidence, learn basic skills and become motivated.
Another initiative in Cardiff has seen two Christian organisations work together under the Engagement Gateway scheme, which operates throughout Wales and is supported by £5 million form the European Social Fund. It aims to improve the employability of disadvantaged groups in society by developing a range of skills and experiences.
Although there have been many examples over the years of individual Christians being involved in job creation and social enterprise etc, this current emphasis demonstrates a further maturing of the evangelical movement as a whole. It was as recent as the 1970s that evangelicals in the UK began to re-engage with societal issues after the movement withdrew from the public square in the early part of the 20th century. In recent years we have begun to engage in an increasing number of issues relating to social concern but this focus on the unemployed is a relatively new one. Employment issues are complex and while the average Christian may be unable to affect the wider structural problems of the global economy, he or she can make a difference in the lives of individuals in their local community. As an evangelical leader once said in relation to the outworking of the gospel: “Some will be saved but all should benefit.”
If you’d like more details on the Gweini conference, which will be held in Bridgend on Thursday, 27 September, contact Jim Stewart on firstname.lastname@example.org.