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01 November 2013

Bringing hope to the unemployed

Bringing hope to the unemployed

Evangelicals think helping the unemployed is important but few churches are doing anything about it. Chine Mbubaegbu explores the work of Christian organisations helping people into work and encourages more churches to do the same....

Evangelical Christians love work. According to the Alliance's latest 21st Century Evangelicals report Working faithfully? we are fulfilled in our jobs, with 93 per cent of our respondents saying they are interested in their work. A further 84 per cent said they feel valued for the work they do. 

Bravo to us. But, there's a problem. Our survey revealed that while many evangelicals – many of whom earn significantly above the UK average – say they care about the unemployed, not many churches are doing anything about it.

And that's a shame given evangelicals' strong historical track record of helping people into work. The Salvation Army – an Alliance member – for example, opened the nation's first ever Labour Exchange in 1890. 

"I don't agree with the general witch hunt of the unemployed as there are a lot of genuine people unable to work or unable to get jobs."

Some 40 per cent of our respondents said their church offers practical support to unemployed people in the community. This is good news. But in this context of continuing economic difficulties across the country, the Church is not addressing the specific needs of the unemployed. Just 13 per cent of respondents said they were in a church that runs a specific project to help those out of work and the same percentage were in churches offering voluntary work placements to the unemployed. 

And worryingly, of the Christians who said they had ever become unemployed, 31 per cent felt they received no support from their church. Do the statistics reflect a view that evangelical Christians believe the unemployed are 'shirkers and scroungers'? Are we doing little to help the unemployed because we are against the so-called 'benefits culture'? In short, no. Some 80 per cent of our respondents reject this idea. One respondent said: "I don't agree with the general witch hunt of the unemployed as there are a lot of genuine people unable to work or unable to get jobs." We are also a group that is passionate about justice in employment, with three quarters in favour of the living wage.

Clearly the will is there, but so too is the need for the Church to be reminded of the importance of providing practical help.

In March this year, I attended the launch of Christians Against Poverty's (CAP) JobClubs initiative in parliament. The job clubs are for anyone who wants to find work, but needs some help in overcoming some barriers. At the weekly clubs, participants work with trained coaches who support them throughout the eight-week programme. 

CAP now has more than 50 job clubs around the country and there is evidence it is working: one in seven people who attend a club find work. A member in Hereford said of the initiative: "I used to go into interviews and ramble, but the skills you have taught me have changed my life. I would never have got my new job without the help I received at a CAP job club."

Commenting on the Alliance's research, CAP founder John Kirkby said: "We are really pleased that this report shows that churches care about the plight of the unemployed and want to get involved… But we would love to see more churches running specific projects to help the unemployed. This year, CAP's new Job Clubs initiative makes it easier for churches to help people practically by giving them the skills and confidence to find employment."

City Gateway is one of the best examples of a Christian-based project passionate about helping people into work and giving them hope. If you live in the capital and commute into work, you are likely to have heard that the Evening Standard has joined forces with the charity to tackle youth unemployment. In a big way. With backing from leading voices including the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, the Ladder for London scheme is really making a difference. 

The scheme involves companies taking on one or more City Gateway-trained apprentices. The apprentices are likely to have completed a year of pre-apprenticeship training in vocational areas such as business administration, customer service or sports fitness.

Since the scheme was launched last year, 1,000 new jobs have been pledged, 300 young people have become employed and nearly 900 businesses across London have got on board.

But while Ladder for London is proving extremely successful, there is still much more to be done – especially when you consider that over a thousand new 16 to 24-year-olds become unemployed each week.

City Gateway was set up in 1999 by a group of city workers involved in local churches. Their aim was to bring hope to their local community of Tower Hamlets. They looked at the need in their area and realised that many of their neighbours had not benefited from the area's wider economic development. They needed help in order to find hope.

Now they help hard-to-reach and excluded NEETs (not in education, employment or training) young people and women from across London to overcome barriers including poor language skills and a lack of aspiration.

Eddie Stride, the organisation's CEO – who was recently named by the Standard as one of London's 1,000 most powerful people – says while the organisation welcomes all partners and employees, the Christian message of hope still underlines all that they do.

"We're about building people up and giving them hope by following the example that Jesus set," he tells idea. "There's a whole range of things that people need work with that are barriers to getting employment: things like gangs, depression, sexual exploitation and self-harming.

"We go about what we do in a holistic way because this is not just about finding people jobs, but about meeting a range of different needs. What we breathe in day in, day out is love. I make it very clear that the heart of City Gateway is the Christian ethos. But we're not a religious organisation – we don't just employ Christians. We employ people that can get behind our ethos and help us bring about God's kingdom here on earth. We want to demonstrate God's love."

The need to bring hope to the unemployed is not unique to London. There are people out of work and out of hope in the areas where you are. In some areas of the country, such as inner city Liverpool, Manchester or Blackpool, the unemployment rates are way above the average and the need is immense. And there are great church initiatives up and down the country responding to the need where they are, including The Work Club run by King's Church in Preston and the Reading Job Club run by Reading Family Church.

Our challenge as the Church is to meet the needs of our neighbours, and as the economic situation across the country worsens, this is one need that churches can try to meet.

"The need is right across the country," Eddie says. "Whatever area you're in, it's important that people are inspired to do the same as we have done in their area. Helping someone into work can really transform their life. If you really care about loving your neighbour, then you should do something."

Can you take on an apprentice in your business and based in London? Find out more about City Gateway or become a City Gateway Friend and help bring hope to young people. To read the full Working faithfully? 21st Century Evangelicals report.
Christians Against Poverty

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