Church can do more to help unemployed youth

The Church of England was today challenged to play a greater role in helping young people find employment.

Philip Fletcher, Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, told the General Synod that the difficult job market was damaging young people's "sense of having a stake in society" and their "ability to grow into responsible citizens".

For those born into families affected by long-term worklessness and poverty, their chances of developing the skills – including soft skills - necessary to get a job were "greatly reduced".

"Cycles of poverty, and low self-esteem and lack of skills become ever deeper and more entrenched," he said.

"This is obviously a dreadful waste of human potential. It is also a real hurdle to building the kind of society and community where people feel in tangible ways that they belong to one another."

Mr Fletcher warned that even after the UK had recovered from its present economic difficulties, "real damage" will have been done to young people who experienced long periods of unemployment and the "feeling that they count for nothing – often not even worth a stamp from a prospective employer to tell them that their application had been unsuccessful – again".

He continued: "The research suggests that only 3% of churches are doing anything intentionally directed at helping unemployed young people.

"There is room for new ideas and initiatives. There is also room for established initiatives to be multiplied."

Synod members heard of the hurdles young people are facing in trying to get a job. These include being turned away by employers because of a lack of experience, and finding job centre staff to be rude and unsupportive.

During the debate, Synod members suggested practical measures that churches could take to help young people break into the job market, many of which required little or no extra funding.

These include running job clubs to provide emotional, spiritual and practical support to young job seekers, taking on apprentices and interns, and giving young people within their congregations greater responsibility in the life of the church.

James Townsend, of the Diocese of Manchester and one of the youngest Synod members, pointed out that there were 16,000 churches in the Church of England all able to serve young people and provide them with "CV-friendly opportunities".

"That is something we must make the most of," he said.

"Just a few entries onto a CV will make a world of difference when it comes to getting the first foot on the ladder.

"If each of our parishes took on one intern, that is 16,000 people who would be given a leg up at no extra cost to the church. There is plenty we could be doing."

Dr Anna Thomas-Betts, of the Diocese of Oxford, said her experience of using the local volunteer bureau to find someone to help with the admin had been extremely positive.

"They are crying out for opportunities to give young people experience in admin," she said.

"It took me by surprise; they were delighted to work with churches."

Anne Foreman challenged churches to check their priorities and ask themselves whether they were "spending more on their flowers than on their young people."

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