No. 9 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Catholic centre specialising in serving people in work is helping them prepare for significant changes to their working lives as society gradually emerges from coronavirus lockdown. Some will lose their jobs, be offered reduced hours or asked to work more from home, according to Kevin Flanagan, director of St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry in Manchester.
Kevin said, “We decided not to put our staff on furlough in order to help us be ready for the new world of work, or lack of it.” Key concerns are around retaining jobs, returning to work with no childcare provision and safe working practices. He feels there are big challenges in the weeks to come, such as many employers announcing job cuts. “The move to reductions in furlough payments is leading to anxiety by many as it moves from 80 per cent to 60 per cent” he says. “There is a storm brewing with us likely to see deep recession and huge redundancies,” he warned. “I’m sure the world of work will change radically.” He felt there will be a growth in insecure work but even that may not be easily available.
St Antony’s is an accredited training provider. It helps older adults leaving industry to find alternative work by boosting their fundamental work skills in IT, English and Maths. There are programmes teaching skills for people made redundant and for those in work.
“We now operate in six communities across the North West offering a range of adult education and support services through St Antony’s Centre and other partner organisations,” said Kevin.
Centres in Accrington, Manchester, Oldham, Liverpool, Preston and Runcorn are available to local communities and offer Internet access. “At each centre we can provide support and training in functional skills Maths and English and we can also support them in getting online and using computers” he said. Each centre has work clubs to help the unemployed plan their journey back into work. “We can provide information, assist with preparing a strong CV and covering letter, support with online job hunting and application forms, or simply provide access to a computer.” In Princess Foods in Manchester, they are working with the GMB and the employer. A training room is available to employees to learn new skills before the factory closes later this year.
St Antony’s links closely with trade unions and shares concerns about the working conditions of frontline health workers, such as ambulance drivers and care home staff. Unison said this week that thousands of “hidden workers”, such as refuse collectors, are putting their health at risk by keeping essential services going and deserve more government support.
St. Antony’s is also helping people with high anxiety levels. These may be people having to reapply for work, being pushed into more homeworking, or concerned about health and safety in the workplace. “In the midst of the pandemic, social distancing, and lockdown due to Covid-19, more people than ever will need help, right now and in the months and years to come.” Kevin suggested, “Mental health services and charities will face a wave of new enquiries for help, on top of those who were suffering before coronavirus plunged us into turmoil.”
The Centre also provides opportunities for men and women within the Diocese of Salford and wider Christian Community to develop their understanding of Christian social thought and the Church’s work in the wider community.
This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.