Chief Rabbi urges government to act on 'moral hazard' of youth unemployment

Lord Sacks

Lord Sacks

The chief rabbi has urged the government to bring together business and voluntary groups in order to boost employment prospects and thus the spiritual welfare of young people.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday on business and ethics, the crossbench peer and outgoing chief rabbi described unemployment as a moral issue "because dignity comes from what we do to enhance the lives of others".

He called on ministers to "explain how they are exploring ways in which business, education, local and regional groups and civic and voluntary organisations can work together to increase the skills of and job opportunities for young people."

Rejecting the assumption that religious leaders only speak on business "to be critical of capitalism", Lord Sacks referenced the biblical figure of Joseph as "perhaps the world's first economist" for his appreciation of trade cycles, and said the market economy was the key to reducing "profoundly humiliating" poverty.

Addressing the high levels of youth unemployment across the continent, he suggested that not only was this dangerous for political stability, "we should be mindful of the moral, psychological and - dare I say it? - spiritual hazards at stake".

"There is an inescapable moral dimension to economic policy because it is, in the end, not about abstractions, such as GDP, but about people," he said. "There could be no more dispiriting prospect than the thought that a significant proportion of young people in this country will grow up without prospect of employment, without contributing to the nation's economy."

Lord Sacks's forthcoming retirement as chief rabbi was acknowledged by others in the chamber, with "Blue Labour" peer Lord Glasman commending his "exemplary" leadership.

"He has renewed our most important tradition, modern orthodoxy, and made it relevant for the modern world," said the Jewish peer. "As ever, he has it completely right by bringing our attention to the relationship between business and society."

During the debate, Labour peer Lord Mitchell commented: "If the BBC is listening, we must all hope that the noble Lord's slot on 'Thought for the Day' will continue."

Speaking on behalf of the government, Viscount Younger, an under-secretary for the department for business, said: "This government are clear that business, and the pursuit of profit, can be a force for good in society by strengthening our economy and bringing together local communities."

Last updated: 11:44am, June 13 2013