An ecumenical report launched this week has challenged governments, political parties and Churches to consider afresh the issue of unemployment and the future of work in Britain and Ireland.
The Report - Unemployment and the Future of Work, was launched by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland and coincides with a British election campaign. Introducing the Report at a press conference on Tuesday 8 April, Bishop David Sheppard, the Chairman of the reports sponsoring body said that Politicians are not the only people who can bring about change: the Churches should properly be seen among the opinion formers who can change the climate of opinion. Then policies, which may today seem unthinkable, start to be seen as possible. Our hope and prayer is that this Report will help to change the order of priorities for the nation.
The Report says that the climate of public opinion needs to change so that governments can make the quantity and quality of employment a top priority for social and economic policy. Public opinion, although it consistently expresses the belief that unemployment is a great evil, has not been effectively mobilised to demand a remedy the Report states.
The Report calls for good employment for everyone. Work, it says should be seen as service to God and to one another; no one should be excluded for it. In a market economy, this means access to paid work, and to work which produces something of real value to the community. A high level of unemployment says the Report, Has come to be taken for granted in the national consciousness, although it is recognized that it causes social breakdown and personal tragedy...It is wrong in such prosperous times as ours for men and women to be deprived for long periods of the chance to earn a living.
The Report attacks the complacency it sees in British and Irish society which allows divisions in society to endure and to widen. It also attacks the fatalism which says that nothing can be done. It claims that there can be enough good jobs for everyone if that aim is given a high enough priority. It says that employers need to see providing good jobs, as well as good products, as one of their most important contributions to the well-being of society. People in well-paid, secure jobs, and their representatives in trade unions, need to accept responsibility for helping those with poor jobs or no jobs at all.
The Report challenges the present British election campaign and the parties that are promising low taxation. It says that at a time of poverty and unemployment in society it is wrong to give priority to the claims of those who are already well off. None of the political parties has put forward a programme which offers much real hope of improvement to those in greatest need.
The Report also describes and assesses a number of policy options. it concludes that the aim of providing enough good jobs would call for some sacrifices, higher taxation for many people but could be achieved over a period of years or perhaps decades.
The Report which was conducted for the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland has received widespread comment in the British press and media. The enquiry was conducted over a period of 18 months throughout Britain and Ireland and its launch had been planned before the date of the election was known. Members of the sponsoring group include a number of Anglican clergy including: the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Michael Bourke, the Ven John Davies from Wales, the Rt Revd Dr Gordon McMullan from the Church of Ireland and Bishop Peter Selby, Bishop-designate of Worcester was a member of the working party. While addressed to the British and Irish population the report also provides a theological overview of the importance of work for the peoples dignity.