The poor always get it in the neck
A couple of weekends ago in the Guardian, there was an article about Mental Health and bad employment. I decided at the time I should do something about highlighting the message - that it can often be better for people’s mental health to be unemployed, than to be in poor employment. I wanted to provide a link to the article, but when I looked for it I couldn’t find it. But it started with an account of a young lady working in a call centre under enormous pressure, who had disappeared to the ladies for about an hour to sob her heart out. The message was that she would have been better off – in terms of her mental health at least – to be unemployed. But although I couldn’t find that article, I found plenty of other material, including this link, which is probably the research the original article was based on anyway. But just googling “bad employment and mental health” will bring up a host of results. And I was involved only this week in a conversation at a local voluntary sector unemployment group where someone mentioned how people in low-paid jobs are often having to take two or three jobs to survive, leaving them so exhausted at the end of the day that they do not have the energy to sort themselves out anything better. I was reminded of a book that Polly Toynbee wrote a few years back called “Hard Work – Life in Low Pay Britain”. She actually took a sabbatical to take a number of low-paid jobs and discovered how hard people work under enormous pressure in places like school kitchens, producing excellent results from very meager resources. And of course they get paid a pittance to do it, often have to take one or two other jobs alongside it to survive, leaving themselves so exhausted at the end of the day that they do not have the energy to sort themselves out anything better. And yes, I do realise I repeated myself there. It was a deliberate (and possibly clumsy) literary ploy for emphasis. But that book dates from 2003. It was written when a Labour Government was in power, and things are probably worse now, what with suffering still the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the gig economy and all the rest. Just as an aside, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but if you google “Economic Crash”, plenty of people are predicting there is another one on the way.. The Benefits Cap So you might be better off in terms of mental health being unemployed. This is even though the Churches (and others) have been railing for a long time against the injustices of the Benefits System in this Country and, in particular, the most recent reductions in the maximum amount of benefits people or families can receive. All you need do is check out the Joint Public Issues Team’s website to get some indication of the quality of the reports which have been produced in the past which argue the injustice of much that goes on in our economic life at the moment, the right to fairness for every member of our society, and the need to respect and maintain dignity for those who need help. But much of this material also highlights the false assumptions that are made, the judgmental nature of political decisions and, perhaps most frustratingly, the great danger of perpetuating the poverty that the “victims” of these decisions are suffering. If a family is penalised for not having enough – and this can include “in-work” families, what effect does that have on the life-chances of any children in the family. But the Benefits Cap was deemed unlawful, at least for single parents, earlier in the summer. You can read here what the JPIT had to say about it, and the damning nature of the judgement, saying it caused real hardship for no good reason.
So what can the Churches do about it all?
Make our feelings felt – Protest!
Write to your MP, sign that petition. People can and will change their minds, reverse the decision, change the plans. At the moment in Hampshire there is the threat from Hampshire County Council to withdraw all subsidies for Community Transport, which would lead to the probable closure of Dial-a-Ride services and similar. The level of protest from the Voluntary Sector and the Churches is very high. Who will be most affected by this if it is not some of the most vulnerable people in our society – older people who can’t drive, have mobility problems, don’t get out otherwise, which could all lead to isolation and loneliness. Cuts in one place would inevitably lead to increased burdens elsewhere. Where’s the sense in that?
Workplace Chaplaincy is a way of being interested in people’s working lives, and of supporting those who have problems in the workplace. Having said that, I have often heard it said that it is quite possibly the places that need chaplains most which are going to be the least likely to agree to a chaplaincy – because you can’t just barge in and do it, a presence has to be agreed to.
Support for those in need
Plenty of (if not most) Churches already do this to a greater or lesser extent. Most places, even the most wealthy areas, have Food Banks, and most local Churches would support them in some way, whether it is acting as collection points, providing volunteers, storage space or financial support. Some places will offer debt advice, run Credit Unions, and give job search support to the unemployed. Alongside food-bank support, could we even give nutritional advice and cookery lessons to those who may not know – through no fault of their own – how to manage on a limited budget.
Just Do It
No, I’m not encouraging you to wear a certain brand of sportswear (although Nike does mean Victory – there’s a theological point in there somewhere.) And “just do it” is possibly a fairly daft thing to say because it is usually more complicated than that. But make no mistake that in times of austerity our communities need their Churches. What are the issues in your community – the problems that need addressing ... and might you be able to do something about them?