Is the Government listening to us at last?

The Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has announced in Parliament that she is preparing a charter for “faith-based” community groups that will prevent them using public money to discriminate.

In her new White Paper, Communities in Control – real people, real power, Ms Blears lays out the Government’s plans to empower local communities by handing more control to them over local facilities and services. In relation to “faith groups” (who see this as an opportunity to use public funds to entrench their influence over local communities), she writes:

“Among the voluntary organisations we want to help in different ways to build stronger communities, there is a particular role for faith based groups. Britain has a strong tradition of faith-based organisations working to improve local communities. This reflects the importance placed on charitable acts, social action and civic duty in all religions practised in the UK. There are over 23,000 religious charities in the UK and many more faith-based organisations, involving tens of thousands of people motivated by their faith, working at a local and national level to provide support and services to communities. At times there has been reluctance on the part of local authorities and agencies to commission services from faith-based groups, in part because of some confusion about the propriety of doing so. Building on the Faithworks Charter, we intend to work with faith communities to clarify the issues and to remove the barriers to commissioning services from faith-based groups.”

When questioned about this in the House of Commons, Ms Blears said: “I am concerned to ensure that if faith groups become involved, they do so on a proper footing – not by evangelising or proselytising, but by providing services in a non-discriminatory way to the whole community. I intend to work on a charter. Faithworks has a similar one, which is very simple and straightforward, but which makes those points very clearly.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “I am pleased that Hazel Blears has apparently listened to the dissenting voices such as that of the NSS, and is addressing our concerns. As we saw last week with the registrar in Islington, there is a tendency among some religious people to put their religious beliefs above the need to provide services to all, without discrimination. We don’t want to see any more of that. It is humiliating for those being denied services, and a scandalous abuse of public money. We want Hazel Blears to come up with a mandatory charter that must be signed by all voluntary groups that want public money to provide services. It must not only include non-discrimination against service users, but also no discrimination in employment practices – something that the Faithworks Charter does not do.”

Read the White Paper and think how YOU can get involved in your local community as a counter to the expected religious over-representation. We have to be as energetic and determined as they are in influencing our local communities.
Faithworks Charter
See also this report about a gay man hounded and bullied by his Church employers

18 July 2008