Faith-based welfare could bring discrimination against marginalised groups, say Unitarians

In a submission to the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee, which started holding oral hearings for its inquiry into the big society agenda this week, the Unitarian Church has warned that “faith based welfare” could lead to discrimination against marginalised groups.

The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches warns: “Whilst the churches and other faith groups have always been active in the Big Society, we have concerns that some religious groups that seek to take over public services, particularly at local level, could pursue policies and practices that result in increased discrimination against marginalised groups, particularly in service provision and the employment of staff.”

Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, told Third Sector magazine that he was concerned that gay and lesbian public sector staff who were moved to local faith charities under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations might face discrimination by other staff at those charities.

His submission to the PASC says: “Non-religious people and those not seen to confirm to the dominant ethos of a religious body, such as being in an unmarried relationship or divorced and being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, could find themselves subject to discrimination.

“Contracts should therefore only be awarded to faith-based organisations that have a public commitment to, and can demonstrate compliance with, the promotion of equality in line with the commitment of recent governments.”

The submission says Unitarians have “an historic and ongoing commitment to the provision of services on a non-sectarian basis”.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “I am glad that others are beginning to recognise the dangers of simply handing over welfare services to religious groups that have proven records of bigotry and discrimination. The Government, and its predecessor, have been in denial over this. But now they really must put in place some tough regulations on how public money will be spent and to stop discrimination not only in service provision but in employment, too.”

See also:

Lib Dems warn against the dangers of religious groups’ participation in Big Society

Evan Harris: Religious groups have too much freedom to discriminate