Dear Salvation Army

My name is Liz, I grew up in the Salvation Army – so did my dad and his dad, and my mum and her mum. I became a Junior Solider at 7, and a band member at 8. You taught me how to play the trombone, and to speak out about what I believe in.

Although the Salvation Army is no longer part of my weekly life (we part ways over a few issues and reconciliation seems unlikely for me), I still feel a connection to the organization. Despite condemning your homophobic actions around Section 28, I have always felt proud to have a link to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is my single biggest connection to my wider family history; I have an uncle who is a minister, and frankly there are more Salvationists than non-Salvationists in my family by a long way.

I felt proud to be part of a church that takes Christianity seriously and actively through service – I also felt proud to be part of an organisation in which women have always had a more equal footing than in other churches. Most of all I felt proud to be part of an organisation which worked to help the poor, and indeed was set up for that very purpose.

It is in that spirit that I am writing this open letter, to share my disappointment in your continued involvement in the government’s work programme. I am asking you to reconsider and withdraw your support for this government scheme, which degrades workers and the unemployed alike.

The work programme promises ‘work experience’ for those out of work for long periods, which seems like offering a helping hand. The reality is that if people do not wish to comply with the programme they can lose the meagre amount of money that they have to live on. There is very little evidence that the scheme helps people into work – in fact it is likely that the work experience positions are replacing paid jobs in the retail sector. I understand that Salvation Army charity shops are run by volunteers, so any work experience placements you accept are unlikely to replace paid work; however, by supporting the scheme you give it credibility. By supporting this scheme you support a government who would make someone homeless for their refusal to work for free, a government threatening to withdraw housing support for young adults. In my view this goes fundamentally against the mission of The Salvation Army.

My experience of this scheme is also personal, my partner is unemployed and has been for a long time. He has in the past been forced to volunteer in a different charity shop, an experience that was profoundly negative, damaging his self-esteem and addressing none of the barriers he faces to get into work. He is not a ‘job snob’, he is applying for hotel porter jobs despite being educated to degree level. The fact of the matter is that in some areas there are up to 35 people for each job vacancy.

I have always respected the Salvation Army as having a practical approach, but if there are no jobs, then why place the blame on the unemployed? Why spend time giving them skills in retail, when there is a scarcity of full time retail jobs? My partner is now in the unfortunate position of being forced into more of this ‘work experience’, with Salvation Army Charity shops as one of the possible places he could end up working against his will. I am not against work experience, or offering support to the jobless – but all work experience should be voluntary, supported and properly remunerated.

I am asking you to consider the work programme from a Christian perspective, and ask your self what Jesus’ approach might be in this situation. Would Jesus support people like Emma Harrison, founder of A4E, an organisation that forces the unemployed to volunteer in your shops? Would he be happy that she earns millions of pounds from forcing others to work for free?

Would Jesus support a government of millionaires who bail out bankers whilst blaming the unemployed for a crisis created by the greed of the wealthy?

I grew up learning that Jesus evicted market sellers from the temple, and went against the leaders and profiteers of his day. Through your involvement in this scheme you are propping up the market sellers, and supporting the profiteers who Jesus forcefully removed.

I am calling on you to follow the lead of other charities like Oxfam and withdraw from this scheme.

I would ask that others, in particular Christians and Salvation Army members consider the issue and write their own letters.

Yours faithfully.

Liz Ely

Former Junior Solider, Singing Company and YP band member Castleford Corps – 1986 -2002ish