What the Bible says  |  The Labour market today  |  Misconceptions about unemployment  |
The Government attitude  |  The Good News

What the Bible says

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  (2 Thessalonians 3:10 - 12  NIV)

Now this is what the Bible says about people who are lazy and will not work to earn their own living. But what about people who through no fault of their own have never had jobs or through the economic climate have lost their job ?

The Bible has a description of an early Employment Exchange or Job Centre:

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

(Matthew 20:1 - 16)

Looking at some of the key points here:

1. The Landowner knew where to find the workers he needed (the market place) and that the people there were wishing to work.
2. The workers knew how to make themselves available to obtain work (if the Landowners were seeking workers) by congregating in the market place.
3. The workers were hired at the beginning of each day, presumably at 6 am for the daily rate of one penny (usually termed a denarius) which was the recognised rate for manual labour of this nature.
4. Presumably the Landowner had need for all the workers he could get, because he went to get workers at 6am, the third hour (9am), the sixth hour (midday), the ninth hour (3pm) and the eleventh hour (5 pm). In each case there were workers waiting to be hired.
Had these workers been waiting to be hired at the beginning of the day or had they turned up later is not clear or had the Landowner at the beginning decided he only wanted so many workers and then decided to go back for more ?
What is clear is that the workers who had not been hired at the beginning of the day were still prepared to be hired ... they had not given up.

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The Labour market today

Up till recently this practice of daily hiring was still carried on in the Docks in the United Kingdom under what was termed "The Lump" and similar procedures carry on with casual labour in the building industry. However for most people there is a recognised procedure for making vacancies known (if you are an employer) and applying for work if you are a prospective employee.

Today employers will make their vacancies known to government employment exchanges and also private employment agencies and also advertise their vacancies in newspapers and various trade journals.

People seeking work can register with the government employment exchange and if appropriate private employment agencies, they can also read job advertisements in newspapers and respond to advertisements for what they think are suitable jobs. They can also make speculative approaches to employers who they think may have vacancies for staff.

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Misconceptions about unemployment

Everyone has a comment to make about the unemployed.

Some think it is easy to find work and the reason some people remain unemployed for a longish period of time is because they do not want to work.

Some people think the unemployed have it too easy on unemployment benefits and that if the benefits were lower then there would be more encouragement or incentive for those without work to find work.

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The Government attitude

This section covers my opinions and views of the UK Employment and Benefits service, I expect US readers to have similar views on their service.

The Government recognises the view that some of it's citizens have that all the unemployed are scroungers and tries to ensure that only those people who are unemployed are claiming benefits (claiming unemployment benefits whist working is a criminal offence) and also that those who are claiming unemployment benefits are able and willing to work and are taking steps to obtain employment.

Consequently the unemployed must be prepared for a barrage of forms to fill in and a constant questioning of what they are doing to find work. The Employment Exchange (Job Centre) staff do not particularly have skills in matching people to available jobs and their attitude is often one of

"How many jobs have you applied for this week ?"

They will often expect their "clients" (ie the unemployed registered with the Job Centre) to apply for a set number of jobs each week without consideration of the number of suitable vacancies being advertised locally and also to send off a set number of speculative letters per week, without giving any suggestions as to which companies they think you should approach.

"How is your job search going ?"

Well the answer to this is that you have not been successful in getting a job otherwise you would not be queuing up to sign for unemployment benefits. That of course is not the answer you should give, but a brief summary of having checked the vacancies in the job centre, checked adverts in the newspapers and applied for suitable jobs/attended for interviews.

The longer you are unemployed, the more help the government thinks you need to get you "back to work" this is based on their view that the unemployed become comfortable drawing their benefit and making token gestures in meeting the objectives set by the job centre of "actively seeking work". This starts with optional schemes such as training schemes and job clubs to help you be qualified for available vacancies and assist you in making job applications.

Training schemes are useful if they help you acquire useful skills, the most useful being information technology and computer skills. If however a 12 week Electrician course is offered, it is unlikely to offer the depth of knowledge neccessary to secure a job as an Electrician, especially as there are most probably a number of fully qualified experienced, but unemployed Electricians already "chasing" any available work.

Job Clubs provide newspapers for the unemployed to check and facilities to word process applications and free postage. I have found these restrictive as I can more easily read newspapers at home and compose applications in peace and quiet. Also great emphasis is placed on making speculative applications which in terms of likely return (say less than one response in one hundred letters sent) are a waste of time.

The Employment Service make "New Deal" programmes compulsory for those unemployed at the end of 12 months. These consist of a compulsory job club of 30 hours per week for a period of six months. My experience of one is that very few people find work as a result of such activity, some use the opportunity to brush up computing skills, or like me take up a work placement that did in fact result in a paid subsidised job, but many of the people end up hanging about in a delapidated office building all day to ensure they still receive benefits.

So that is the bad news, what about some good news ?

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The Good News

Christians can be confident in spite of everything that God is in control and that he has a plan for their lives.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29: 11 NIV)

Being unemployed gives you an opportunity to look at what God would have you do, something different perhaps than the career you have been following before you lost your job ?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6 - 7  NIV)

Being unemployed is an anxious time, but again God can be trusted to provide all your needs.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Matthew 6: 33 - 34  NIV)

So register with the Employment Service, claim your benefits, take steps to find work, take steps to improve your skills.

Don't let "the system" push you around.

If you do not have the aptitude for example to work in a telephone call centre, tell them that you would not be able to do the job. If they are trying to persuade you into work hours which include night shifts or weekend especially Sunday working that you do not want, say so.

(In the UK you can specify how far you are willing to travel to work and unless you are being unusually specific and said to be trying to avoid work it will be allowed. Also if for example you say that you are prepared to work say 40 hours per week between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm Monday to Saturday, that too will be accepted)

Get the type of work you are able and want to do.

Work is service to God whatever you are doing paid or unpaid whilst unemployed.

Organisations are "crying out" for volunteers to help them and the unemployed, subject still to being actively seeking work and able to take up any suitable job offered them, can be involved in such voluntary work.

Voluntary work involving computers helped me into my first paid job after being made redundant from a company I had been with for fifteen years.

Practically, one cannot spend every minute of the working week seeking work, one has to keep one's mind active.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
(Colossians 3: 23 - 24  NIV)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6: 9 - 10  NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41: 10  NIV)

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