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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Catholic leaders panic as more councils cut “faith school” bus subsidies

As local authorities around the country cut subsidised transport to religious schools, the Catholic establishment is increasingly panicking about the effect this will have on Catholic schools.

Catholic activist Lord Alton even goes so far as to say the cuts are a “tax on faith” and an attempt by unnamed “opponents” to “asphyxiate” religious schools. He urges the Government to force local authorities to keep this privilege for church schools and even suggests that the Church might launch some sort of challenge to the cuts under human rights legislation. The Church has threatened to do this several times in recent months but has presumably drawn back because it realises that a defeat is the most likely outcome and that would encourage yet more cuts.

Lord Alton has tabled two parliamentary questions about the cuts. The first asks whether the government has provided any advice to local authorities on the impact such a bus pass removal would have on the different sections of their school population. The second enquires whether the government has plans to provide any financial assistance for school transport in the future.

The questions were prompted by Rochdale Council’s proposals to cut transport subsidies to those sending their children to distant “faith schools” rather than a school nearer to home.

Councillor Dale Mulgrew, who has raised concerns about the proposals, told Rochdale online: “It is quite clear fromRochdale’s own equality assessment that this proposal to remove the bus pass will hit hard on those families who send their children to a faith school. This is because currently 79 per cent of bus passes provided are to pupils who attend a faith school.”

Councillor Teresa Fitzsimons, added: “This discriminatory proposal affects the parents who have the statutory right to choose a Faith school for the education of their children. Out of the 12 Secondary schools in the Rochdale Borough, three are faith schools. It therefore follows that these children have longer distances to travel to their school than those who attend their more local place of learning. I am very concerned that those who have drawn up this proposal have elected to go ahead, blaming the Government for cut-backs, without due respect to the outcomes for a proportion of the community.”

But Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “Lord Alton has this the wrong way round. It is not a tax on faith – it is a tax on everybody from which only the faithful can benefit. In other words, it’s a church tax, and nobody voted for that. But his reaction indicates the sheer selfishness of these religious enthusiasts who imagine that they have a right to dip their hands into the taxpayers’ pocket in order to promote their beliefs. They have scant regard for those council tax payers who have had to subsidise their religious preferences for decades now and who are equally hit by the downturn. Those opposing cuts rarely if ever concede that pupils from low income families continue to receive the subsidies which are statutory for them.”

Published Fri, 18 Nov 2011