Monday, 18 November 2013

The Crisis of Unemployment in 1976

Looking back at the Rosewindow articles by the Bishop of Winchester, John V Taylor, I was struck by how often we forget the past. He is speaking to the world of October 1976, but with high unemployment, it could just as easily have been our own time.
I always found John Taylor to be a voice of insight, well worth listening to. Here is an extract from the Rosewindow article on unemployment, in which I particularly like his focus on the need to see behind the statistics. It is that kind of empathy that is always in danger of being lost, but something which is crucial to the political agenda - it is not just statistics, but human beings that we need to see. He also has pertinent observations regarding the Church's role.
The Crisis of Unemployment
By John V Taylor
AS AUTUMN COMES round again, thousands of students who were still at school last July are now starting at universities and polytechnics; tens of thousands more are already feeling their way in their first jobs as wage-earners. For the fall of the year is the time of new beginnings for the younger generation all over the world. At least, that is their expectation; but for great numbers of them the pattern is not working out. Nobody wants their energy or skill. Nobody can take up their eagerness to learn. The new beginning is a dead end to all the effort they made at school and all their parents' hopes.'
The whole European Economic Community is facing a crisis of general unemployment, but of all those out of work one third are under 25. As I write this in the middle of August there are in Britain close on a quarter of a million jobless school leavers. In Hampshire 4,900 young people are known to be seeking employment. That is about four times as many as there were at the same time in 1974, yet the number of unfilled vacancies known to Careers Officers is approximately five times fewer.
Statistics by themselves quickly deaden the imagination. We need to see behind these figures the anxiety you yourself would feel - are feeling, perhaps -- over a child of 17 or 18 who has lost any clear idea of what he or she wants to do, whose applications for a dozen different jobs have drawn a blank, whose day is spent between abortive visits to Labour Exchange or Careers Advisory Service and bored, rebellious forays in search of amusement with others in the same plight.
We need to see the look of shame and worthlessness deepening in a young face, and understand why this child heads the questions that parents are bound to ask each time he comes home.
This is what the Department of Employment Gazette last April described is "a profoundly corrosive experience, undermining personality and atrophying work capacities."
To apportion blame would be both untrue and useless. We are reaping the fruits of a trend that has been taking place since 1954; some would-say the crisis of capitalism has overtaken us at last. In recent years industry has been investing in sophisticated labour-saving technology, replacing many heavy labourers with a few technicians. Our standard of income at all levels has been raised above what our productivity would justify, so that manpower is beginning to price itself out of the market. Inflation and recession make firms reluctant to replace employment vacancies and unable to create new jobs. The ability of Government to absorb much of the unemployment by means of increased public expenditure is strictly limited by the loss of foreign confidence in the pound.
Without fully realising it, we have grown accustomed to having more and more people out of work while the rest of us work overtime, and it looks as though this will continue over the coming years unless we see our way to radical changes in our organization of employment. In the meantime it is the weakest that suffer most. The most vulnerable regions are the first to see more works closing down. And among individual workers the most disadvantaged are the young, the unskilled, the coloured.
There is an immediate and massive need for short-term 'first aid'. The Government, with good backing by industry, is doing a lot, mainly; under three heads.
a. Sponsored Training Schemes.
The Hampshire Education Committee has set up at several Technical Colleges short courses for school leavers who have not acquired a job. They last roughly the length of a school term, and give some technical skill as well as sustaining young people over a difficult time.
Some of these courses, sponsored by the Training Services Agency, have offered 16-year-olds a training in engineering or office work for five days a week, with a subsistence grant and travel allowance. A few colleges have also been offering courses of 24 days a week for youngsters on supplementary and unemployment benefits. So far the numbers touched by such facilities are but a small part of the total - not more than 150 at any time.
b. Community Industry Units.
This idea was conceived by the National Association of Youth Clubs in 1971.
A unit consists of an Area Manager and a specialist staff, paid by central Government with accommodation and expenses provided by Local Authorities. Units have been set up in regions of greater unemployment, the first in Hampshire being established this year at Paulsgrove, Portsmouth. The Unit makes contact with District Councils and voluntary organizations and tries to persuade them to place contracts through Community Industry with teams of young people in order to carry out projects of use to the community which would not otherwise be done. A painting team, for example, would take orders to re-decorate the homes of elderly or sick people; a joinery team would make toys and equipment for Pre-school Playgroups.
The aim is not only to tide over a crucial period - usually a year - and give technical skills, but also to accustom school leavers to coping with a work situation.
c. Job Creation Projects.
Through the Manpower Services Commission grant aid may be given to short-term projects sponsored and supervised by any voluntary body that can put up a viable, socially valuable idea and is prepared to take on the responsibilities of being the employer of a group of workers.
The grant covers wages and also materials and administrative costs up to 10% of the wages total. Each project must provide a minimum of 30 man-months employment - it might be 12 weeks work for 10 people. The grant is for a limited duration, but if the project can become self-supporting it may go on thereafter under its own steam.
For example, at Kirkby in Liverpool a waste-paper re-cycling factory set up in this way now employs 7-8 youths regularly. Locally, the Southampton Adventure Playground Association has been sponsoring 5 school leavers to landscape three of the playgrounds in the city.
Why should the Church as such become involved in this area of great need when other agencies are clearly doing a good job? Because there is room for far more help. Because the Church is everywhere and always called to act on behalf of the most disadvantaged members of society whoever else may be doing so. Because whatever message of God we may have for the poor and the weak will sound hollow unless we have shown that we care about their plight. Because whatever contribution we may have to make in the debate about the long-term reshaping of our society will carry no weight if we have not shared the burden of short-term alleviation.
What, then, can the Church do at the local level? As a Council of Churches? As a congregation or PCC?
1. Learn the facts and make them known. Use the normal contacts of a functioning parish to find out who the unemployed youngsters are and where they get together. Use the quarterly report of your local Careers' Service and the gazette of the Department of Employment, and above all ask for information and guidance from the South Hampshire Industrial Mission, which is our own clearing-house for all such concerns.
2. Identify some piece of work of value to the community which would not normally be done by someone else -renovating a small building, interior or exterior decorating of homes or community buildings, fencing, turfing or landscaping a plot, making a noticeboard, needlework, survey work, etc. -
Make sure you can supply all necessary materials, and then ring your local branch of Community Industry: [names given]. If your church can offer premises as a base and workshop for a workteam ring up the last named.
3. As individuals, consider the jobs one is reserving for a day off or a bit of spare time and, instead of doing it oneself, think whether one might not afford paying an unemployed young person to do it, or at -least to help.
4. Groups of churches in an integrated zone might, with imagination and a generous expenditure of individuals' time sponsor a scheme to employ school -leavers under the Jobs Creation Programme, Because the sponsoring body has to prepare a job description, estimate the number of employees and the time required, cost the wage bill, interview and select applicants, draw up contracts, find materials and be responsible for discipline, insurance and safety, Churches will not be able to tackle such a workload unless they have a retired manager in one of their congregations. But if there is a group of Churches that feels adventurous enough to explore this possibility, they should ask the South Hampshire Industrial
Mission (see above) to process their project for submission to the Manpower Services Commission, S.W. Area Office, 9 Catherine Street, Exeter.
5, PCC's that know of managing directors in their congregation or neighbourhood might consider means to persuade them to re-think their firm's policy with regard to training: So far from decreasing the amount expended on training recruits to industry during a time of recession, firms should deliberately step up their programmes, especially for youngsters with limited skills, in order to have a ready supply of skilled and work-worthy employees before recovery sets in.
I have emphasized that these proposals are short-term emergency measures to alleviate to some degree the waste of young lives. But even while we tackle the problem at that level we must begin the more fundamental asking of questions to which the Archbishops called us a year ago.
How should our education system and its curriculum be changed so that the transition from school to the world of work/leisure is less of a jolt? As the total number of real industrial jobs shrinks, how can they be shared among more workers without an unacceptable reduction of pay-packets? Must we not, like the United States, accept a redistribution of the work force so that a skilled minority are in the sophisticated 'productive' industries and the majority of workers are in 'service' occupations? And doesn't this call in question the moral superiority of 'productive' work? Must we not, in fact, prepare ourselves for a society in which other ways besides paid employment are open to men and women whereby they can be guaranteed adequate financial support and personal fulfilment, as students, housewives and pensioners already are? These disturbing questions strike at the roots of our present economic structures; but that is no reason for the Church to shy away from them, for she, of all historical institutions, knows that economic structures are not eternal. We can best serve our generation in the name of the Lord by starting to think and pray about these things while we still have time.

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