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
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
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
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
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
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
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.