On the news we hear that the level of unemployment is down, but analysis shows this isn’t unreservedly good news. People may be in precarious employment, perhaps with a ‘zero hours’ contract and no job security (Philip Bee in Unemployment and the Future of Work). The term ‘precariat’ is used to describe these workers who make up an increasing section of the workforce. It is important that the church listens to the voices of people in such vulnerable positions.
A further concern is that, due to the raising of the retirement age, there is a need for the creation of perhaps as many as 850 000 new jobs. That is a huge task for the economy, and given the cuts in the Public Sector, the Government will not supply these jobs. Potential areas for jobs growth include self-employment, a growing health and care sector, and flexibility around job-sharing. Growth in these areas may well be linked to precarious unemployment, perhaps particularly so in the care sector as it currently functions.
The issue of low pay is also critical. The tax and benefits system tops up income for low earning households by four times the amount in 1977. So it is not just a matter of needing more jobs, and more secure jobs, but needing work that pays a living wage for sufficient hours.
So, when will it get easier to find a job in the North? In his report, Philip, gives a clear answer – only when there are positive ethical interventions by government, businesses and the third sector. As Christians we are set a challenge: read the report, pray and respond. The Church needs to be informed and passionate about the right to good enough work for everyone.