Debate speaker Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith
WFD 4 Welfare and Religion
21 March 12
Faith Groups must be allowed to “Plug the Gaps” in State Services
Two academics will this week show how faith groups play a vital role in providing social care to parts of society which state based welfare services fail to reach. But they are being inhibited by prejudices against religion based on inaccurate and out of date assumptions. State money is often hard to access because civil servants wrongly believe that religious organisations use the services to put pressure on beneficiaries to convert.
Dr Sarah Johnsen reveals that over half of provision for the homeless is still provided by faith organisations. Her in-depth study found no evidence at all that they ‘Bible bash’ or seek to convert those who use the services. In fact secular provision often comes with more ‘strings attached’ than religious provision. Yet there is still suspicion about faith-based organisation amongst some who commission social services. Religious organisations feel they have to hide their religion and downplay their distinctiveness.
Dr Adam Dinham, head of the Faiths and Civil Society unit at Goldsmiths, went further, showing how faith organisations still carry out long-term and demanding work which surpasses what the state can supply: working with the dying, with prisoners and addicts, with the elderly and marginalised. These services are often most trusted by service users because of their permanence and their ethos of loving care.
Dr Dinham warned that old prejudices in the public service establishment need to be challenged, for the sake of the most vulnerable. He also raised concerns that despite big society rhetoric, the increasing work by faith groups is suffering under huge funding cuts. He said that “although social enterprise models will be effective in some cases, work amongst those with the most demanding needs external funding - there is no way of passing on costs when working with the very poorest”.
Watch the video and listen to podcasts of the debate here: http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates/religion_and_welfare