The Dignity of Work


The Dignity of Work

This Living Wage Week, Aidan reflects on the relationship between dignity and the right to work

07 November 2018

The Dignity of Work

To be able to work and accomplish something for ourselves and for others is something most of us may well take for granted. I certainly always have. I grew up in south east England where, by comparison to many other areas of the UK alone, paid work has always been relatively easy to come by. It can be easy to overlook the fact that work is one of the key narratives around which our lives are structured. It is the framework through which we assess just what it is that we are doing with our lives. As that narrative collapses, we are left with a gaping void instead of a plan for the future.

Here at JRS we serve people who don’t have an opportunity to get a paid job. The consequences of this were outlined in our report, ‘Out in the Cold’, published earlier this year; highlighting the indignity so many of our refugee friends suffer as a result of being unable to contribute or participate. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be solely dependent on the generosity of others. Unfortunately for so many of our friends this involuntary dependency leads to precarious living conditions. The report recommends giving all asylum seekers the right to work, such that, not only can they contribute and participate in society, but also to empower individuals, to give purpose and meaning, and to restore dignity.

JRS UK is part of a campaign calling on the government to allow those seeking asylum the right to work

Find out more about the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign

I spoke to a friend of mine last weekend who had a hosted a young man from Sri Lanka for over three years. She told me he was a victim of trafficking and had recently lost an appeal by the Home Office who successfully overturned a decision that had granted him leave to remain. He has been given an opportunity to volunteer this summer and she told me this opportunity has been completely transformative for him. Similarly, at JRS we have many volunteers who are also seeking asylum. I see day in day out the enormous contribution they make to the work of JRS. The work of volunteers has always been an integral part of what we do at JRS; without which many of the services JRS provides would cease to function. All our friends who volunteer are committed, hardworking and provide high quality support in all most all aspects of our work.

Many people who volunteer recognise what a rewarding experience it can be. For our friends regaining a sense of purpose and simply getting out and about meeting others makes their lives more bearable. It’s important to maintain skills but volunteering can also help reduce stress levels as being busy can help take your mind off the challenges of daily life our friends experience. It also provides the opportunity for them to help others which can bring great joy as well as meaning to their lives.

“I have found joy in giving my time and skills in volunteering. At the end of the day, I feel proud of myself and this gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”

 A Refugee Volunteer

In the very first social encyclical, RERUM NOVARUM (1891), the Church responded to challenges in the late nineteenth century where technological and economic development in the western world led to the movement of people from rural areas to industrialised cities. Inhumane working conditions and inadequate wages were common practice and social welfare reforms were many years away. Pope Leo XIII criticised low wages and poor working conditions and said these were an offence against human dignity and social human rights, demanding workers receive a fair share of the growing economic prosperity.

This relationship between work and innate human dignity is integral to the values of JRS UK. This week is ‘Living Wage Week’ and JRS UK is proud to be accredited as a ‘London Living Wage Employer’. The real Living Wage is higher than the government minimum and the only UK wage rate that is voluntarily paid by organisations who believe their staff deserve a fair day’s pay for their work. However the ethos of human dignity promoted by RERUM NOVARUM and ‘Living Wage Week’ calls us to go further. The dignity that grows from the ability to work should not only be achieved by a select few. It is time that those seeking asylum be given the right to work, enabling them to have the independence and dignity available to us all.


The living wage foundation celebrates and recognise the leadership of responsible employers who choose to go further and pay a real Living Wage based on the cost of living, not just the government minimum. Find out more.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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