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General Synod: Quest to help young jobless

30 November 2012

Youth unemployment

Young contributors: James Townsend

Young contributors: James Townsend

THE General Synod has has given fresh encouragement to church involvement in initiatives to help the young unemployed. A debate on youth unemployment began with a video presentation featuring the "authentic voices . . . from young people who are not in employment, education, or training".

"We wanted to avoid the risk of discussing the experience of a large group of people who are notoriously under-represented on Synod without their voices being audible," said Philip Fletcher (Archbishops' Council), who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council, on the Wednesday afternoon, as he introduced the Council's motion.

"You may feel that their comments only covered part of a hugely complex social issue - and you'd be right, because the focus of the video was on how young people themselves experience unemployment rather than on causes and solutions.

"What I hope that what comes across is that even sparky, articulate young people . . . find the experience of being constantly turned down or ignored in their search for work deeply disheartening and destructive of hope."

He said the motion did not include "the almost traditional clause calling on Her Majesty's Government to do this, that, or the other"; and he was grateful to Synod colleagues for not moving amendments to "fill the gap". "This is not to absolve the present or the previous government from any responsibility, but because the problem and perhaps the solution are not dependent on particular political ideologies or strategies."

"Our focus today is on what we in the Church can do to address and to mitigate the impact of unemployment on young people - because what happens to them harms all of us who long for a cohesive and functional society."

He continued: "We shall in time come through this period, but experts warn us that it will not be quick. And, however soon it comes, there will have been real damage to the young people who have experienced long periods of unemployment and the feeling that they count for nothing."

Hannah Page (Church of England Youth Council) said that she had experienced "several gruelling years of unemployment"' so the "issues of the people in the report are so real to me". Young people in unemployment often felt that society did not care; the Church must show that it did care. It was all well and good, writing reports, but "please do something to help".

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) warmly welcomed the motion. As the numbers retiring had fallen, the number of young people out of employment had increased.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, told of how the previous day he had met young asylum-seekers - some of them Christian - who were not allowed to apply for jobs, even though they wanted to contribute to society. This "must be a blot on our society", he said. It was necessary to apply political as well as personal pressure.

James Townsend (Manchester) said that the C of E could boast 16,000 outlets in the country, "up there with Prêt à Manger". The Church's outlets, serving some of the most disadvantaged areas, needed to give young people "CV-friendly opportunities".

Prebendary Phillipa Boardman (London) said that, with funding from the Church Urban Fund and Mustard Seed, her parish had hired a youth worker to carry out research through interviews with young people. "They discovered teenagers living in families where nobody had worked for generations," she said.

Some were living in situations where "managing their home life was very difficult," because parents had mental illness, or they were suffering from domestic violence. "What we encountered, time and time again, is a profound lack of aspiration and self-worth."

She offered "very simple practical suggestions that all of us can put into action" and that required no money at all. Churches could build social skills, life skills, and presentational skills by involving young people in leading worship, giving talks, saying the intercessions, reading scripture. And churches in urban areas could build the aspirations of teenagers by linking them with a youth group and parish where it was more usual to go to university and get a job.

Canon John Kiddle (St Albans) said that it was an "issue of huge importance" with "no easy or quick solutions". He highlighted the new type of school, University Technical Colleges, which was taking people from the age of 14. One had opened in St Albans, and the diocese of Chelmsford was sponsoring one in Stratford, east London. "They take men and women of all abilities, and provide a mixture of academic courses and technical skills training. They are more like workplaces than schools."

Jacob Vince (Chichester) commended the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and said that there were opportunities for deaneries or churches to get involved with running a scheme.

The Ven. Dr John Applegate (Manchester) did not underestimate the difficulties for churches. He said that he had worked hard, over three years, requiring "sustained active collaboration", with many church and community partners to set up a community-based regeneration agency in Salford.

His experience of young people showed that they were full of creative hope and ideas; but it was often fragile, and required love, nurture, and direction.

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, said that "young people's talents and hopes are not being fulfilled on our watch." He spoke of projects that were helping to get young people into work, such as social enterprises in Birmingham.

Anne Foreman (Exeter) asked Synod members to "check the priorities that your youth workers have. They might need to change." They should check that they were not one of the churches that "spend more on their flowers than they do on their young people".

The Revd James Dudley-Smith (Bath & Wells) emphasised the importance of job clubs, which help unemployed people "to learn to build community, even without workplace community".

Canon Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) noted that "unemployment among young people is rising even faster in rural areas than in urban areas." Since the start of the financial crisis in 2007, the proportion of young people not in education or training had increased by one third in rural areas, compared with a rise of one-fifth in urban areas.

Sister Anne Williams CA (Durham) spoke of the work of the Church Lads' and Church Girls' Brigade. Dr Anna Thomas-Betts (Oxford) drew attention to young people with learning difficulties and personality disorders, including those on the autistic spectrum.

The Revd Alison Cox (Chester) spoke of providing work experience to young people in a way that other clergy might like to consider. She had been struggling with her paperwork, and had contacted her local volunteer bureau for somebody to help with parish administration. "To my surprise, they are crying out for opportunities to give young people work experience in administration."

Alison Fisher (Wakefield) spoke from 30 years' experience in the Probation Service. Ex-offenders were "a significant group when we talk about young people".

Dr Phillip Rice (London) wanted to offer "kind words about high-flying bankers and lawyers" who "release staff at grass-roots level for training and mentoring".

The motion was carried overwhelmingly. It said:

That this Synod, mindful of the corrosive effect of unemployment on young people, their future prospects and social integration, and recognising that economic policy solutions alone cannot tackle the problems without strong networks and initiatives in the community at large:

(a) encourage parishes and church groups to listen to the voices of unemployed young people, both locally and through reports such as I Am One in a Million, and

(b) commend and encourage the multiplication of church and community initiatives which can provide training and other support to assist young people into work and help them manage the experience of unemployment without despair.


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