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Faith-Based Welfare Now Official Government Policy

The Government’s plans to hand over large tracts of welfare provision to the “third sector” (voluntary and charitable groups) means that religious groups will increasingly be funded by taxpayers’ money. In Wednesday’s budget, Gordon Brown confirmed that the Government will establish the largest-ever consultation with charitable organisations, and it will be for this purpose.

An Office of Charitable and Third Sector Finance will be established in the Treasury. An advisory panel, that will have members of the ubiquitous “faith communities” on it will report to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The review will be launched at a conference in May and then taken to every region by the ministerial groups.

Terry Sanderson, vice president of the National Secular Society, said: “This is profoundly depressing. We seem to be returning to some Victorian model of social provision that depends on the whims of charities and the generosity of donors – which could dry up at any moment. The prospect of religious groups getting their hands on welfare services that are presently operated by secular local authorities is alarming. We have already seen how grossly discriminatory such groups can be in employment and in service provision. The NSS will be pressing for ring-fencing for any money that is given to these groups to provide services so that it is not used for proselytising. We will also be insisting that groups benefiting from public money will not place religious conditions on the provision of services. However, having seen what the government permits ‘faith schools’ to get away with, we are not optimistic.”

And the NSS is not the only organisation feeling uneasy about this dangerous new partnership between church and state. A new report Faith as Social Capital, launched by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, although generally supportive, says that “social capital” is a “honeyed term” and has a “dark side”. There was a danger that faith groups would “produce tribal social networks that excluded others, perpetuated stereotypes, punished deviants, created stagnation and isolation and inhibited knowledge.” They could create “retreat, division and conflict”.

The report quotes Professor Keith Ward: “There is a brutal, callous, intolerant religion and there is a compassionate, kind and tolerant religion.”

The report suspects that the Government may use its association with “faith groups” and other voluntary and charitable bodies to cut funding and make the poor responsible for the success or failure of projects.