Labour promises faith leaders “strong partnerships”

Posted: Thu, 13th Jun 2024

Keir Starmer tells faith leaders Labour would promote partnerships between local authorities and faith groups.

Rwendland, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

A Labour government would encourage local authorities to work with faith groups, Keir Starmer has pledged.

In a letter addressed to "Faith Leaders", the Labour leader said his government would "ensure strong partnerships with faith communities".

The National Secular Society has warned these plans could "undermine the inclusivity of public services and policies".

The Labour Party's manifesto, published today, says government is "at its best" when working in partnership with "faith groups" in addition to businesses, trade unions and civil society.

Starmer: Labour would promote "faith covenants" between local authorities and faith groups

The letter, sent this week, says a Labour government would "promote local faith covenants to facilitate partnerships" between local authorities and faith groups.

"Faith covenants" have been pushed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on faith and society. The APPG's "faith covenant", which aims to be a "set of principles that guide engagement" when faith groups are contracted to provide public services, was previously supported by the NSS.

However, the NSS withdrew its support after the covenant was modified in 2021 to remove a clause which prohibited faith groups from proselytising while providing public services.

The current government has also attempted to engage more faith groups in delivering public services. In 2021 it launched a £1 million "Faith New Deal" fund exclusively for religious groups to provide community services. But it was forced to terminate this fund with one of the recipients, Zion Projects, after the NSS raised the alarm over its divisive sermons which called Islam "demonic" and a "force of spiritual wickedness".

The NSS also found evidence that another "Faith New Deal" fund recipient, All Souls Serve the City, tries to convert trafficked women to Christianity.

Starmer's letter to faith leaders says Labour would appoint a minister "to lead on engagement" with faith communities, continue to use its "network of parliamentary faith champions", and "engage faith-based organisations in the delivery of our five missions".

These "missions" include "Build an NHS fit for the future". A report published by the APPG on faith and society in 2022 said the public should expect faith groups to be "increasingly involved" in healthcare, and to receive "increasingly significant amounts of public funding to do this". This year, the National Churches Trust called for more public services, including the NHS, to operate out of places of worship.

Last year, Keir Starmer said a Labour government would be "even more supportive of faith schools" than the current government.

NSS: Pledges to faith leaders "more likely to exacerbate community divisions and tensions rather than heal them"

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "These promises to faith leaders run counter to secularist principles and threaten to undermine the inclusivity of public services and policies".

"They are more likely to exacerbate community divisions and tensions rather than heal them.

"Local authority services that we all pay for should be equally welcoming to people from all religion and belief backgrounds. Where religious organisations join others in delivering public services, they should be expected to refrain from proselytising or discriminating against service users or their employees. Opening the door to faith groups who want to use public service provision as a mission field would be a retrograde approach."

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Tags: Public services