Expect shift of healthcare to places of worship, say MPs

Posted: Tue, 13th Sep 2022

Expect shift of healthcare to places of worship, say MPs

Faith groups will receive "increasingly significant" amounts of public money to run community services such as healthcare, MPs have said.

In a report launched last week, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on faith and society says the public should expect faith groups to be "increasingly involved in the leadership and management of 'secular' referrals and key worker care in the community", and to receive "increasingly significant amounts of public funding to do this".

Some projects have already received "hundreds of thousands of pounds from public funds", according to the report.

The report, 'Keeping the Faith 2.0', outlines how partnerships between local authorities and faith communities have strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic​, and explores how this relationship can be embedded as a "new normal" in Britain.

The report says the "growing use of worship and other faith-based centres" in the delivery of statutory mental health and public health is "likely to be a permanent feature of health and social care provision".

It says: "Expect more churches, mosques, and temples to have clinical health care facilities grafted onto them or integrated into the existing building infrastructure.

"Expect more professional care staff to be operating out of worship centres as primary health, social and mental care is carried out from these locations rather than GP surgeries or traditional outpatients' departments".

The report says faith groups have a new "sense of power" after helping people during the pandemic and saw it as "an opportunity to reconfigure tired and outdated thinking and practice". A faith community hub leader in a London quoted in the report said: "it's about invading the public square".

The report says faith groups "will doubtless welcome this renewed attention and appreciation, and the opportunity to contribute goods and services without being required to 'edit out' their core religious values and beliefs".

The APPG on faith and society, which is chaired by evangelical Christian and Labour MP Stephen Timms, aims "to highlight the contribution to society by faith-based organisations".

Government pushes faith-based public services despite public unease

The government has increased its use of religious groups in the delivery of community services in the past few years. In July it announced the 16 recipients of its £1 million 'faith new deal pilot fund', a grant for organisations to provide community services which excluded organisations that were not faith-based.

This followed the government's 'faith engagement adviser' Colin Bloom launching a call for evidence into engagement with faith communities in 2020 which appeared to prioritise responses from faith-based perspectives.

In the same year, a report from Conservative MP Danny Kruger recommended the government "invite the country's faith leaders to make a grand offer of help". He dismissed concerns regarding faith-based public services as "faith illiteracy" and "faith phobia".

Research consistently reveals the public are wary about outsourcing community services to faith groups.

2016 polling by the Oasis Foundation found 65% of people have no confidence in church groups running "crucial social provisions such as healthcare" with only 2% expressing a lot of confidence.

And last month, YouGov polling found the majority (57%) of Brits said religion has an overall negative influence on the world, against 19% saying it has a positive one.

The APPG says "mistrust from secular agencies" in letting faith groups deliver public services is "bordering sometimes on intentional prejudice".

The report's recommendations include commissioning "a process of religion and belief literacy as a contribution to culture shift in all partners".

The APPG encourages local authorities to sign up to their 'faith covenant', which is intended to guide interactions between local authorities, faith groups and the general public.

Following Bloom's call for evidence and Kruger's report, the faith covenant was altered to remove a clause that stipulated faith groups should refrain from proselytising while delivering public services. This change was made following a meeting of the APPG where one religious leader said this clause was a "stumbling block for a couple of churches".

The National Secular Society criticised the removal of the non-proselytising clause as "a big step backwards, which has been taken primarily for the benefit of faith groups and not for the benefit of public service users".

The report recommends the development of "a five-year faith action plan" for other policies including climate emergency planning, equalities and cohesion, integrated care systems and pandemic recovery.

NSS: Public services must be neutral on religion

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "This report's recommendations are deeply troubling.

"Public services that are truly welcoming to all must be neutral in the matter of religion or belief. That MPs seek to actively replace secular public services with religious providers, while stripping away protections such as non-proselytising agreements, should concern us all.

"The suggestion that more healthcare services are handed to faith groups is particularly worrying. How will this affect women seeking an abortion, LGBT+ people seeking sexual health care, or victims of religious trauma or abuse seeking counselling, for example?

"Dismissing those with genuine concerns as 'faith phobes' who need re-education in religious literacy is insulting and will do nothing to alleviate the fears the increasingly irreligious public has about mixing religion with healthcare and other public services."

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Tags: Public services