Churches Must Not Be Allowed To Impose Religion on Provision of Social Care

If social services are to be handed over to “faith groups”, the government must ensure that there is not discrimination in the provision of services, says the National Secular Society (NSS).

The warning comes on the heels of the Church of England’s latest report “Faithful Cities” which makes a case for greater involvement of religion in providing publicly funded social services. This follows hot on the heels of a speech by Mr Blair last week in which he restated the government’s intention to involve voluntary organisations — including so-called faith groups — in the provision of public services.

“There is a danger that public money will be handed over to extreme religious groups who will then place religious conditions on the provision of services,” said Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS.

He points to the new regulations aimed at outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services – on which a consultation ends this week. “Religious groups are seeking widespread exemptions from the sexual orientation element of these regulations,” he said. “They want to continue discriminating against homosexuals without any legal sanction. If they are given these exemptions, and then take control of the provision of social care, gay people could find themselves unable to access services that were previously provided by secular local authorities.”

Mr Wood added that the “Faithful Cities” report was a mixture of fantasy and wishful thinking. “The idea that local communities revolve around churches is self-evidently untrue. The attendance figures at the Church of England illustrate that the church is just about the last people turn to for help.”

He said that although some faith groups did a good job in areas where local authority social services sometimes cannot reach, there should be some legislation to ensure that any public money that they receive is used for service provision only and not for proselytising. “The money should be ring-fenced to ensure that it is used for its proper purpose, and there should be no religious requirements attached to receiving services. There must be no soup-for-prayers involved,” Mr Wood said.