Government's Record on Christianity and Faith
In an interview with Premier Christian Radio the Prime Minister said, “People should stand up for what they believe. In the end, our communities will be strengthened by the involvement of people of faith in them, and our society will be better because people with convictions about what a good society means are playing a part in creating that society”.
The Christian Churches have had an immense historic influence in shaping society, and the Government recognises the central role which Christianity continues to play within British society.
Government is committed to working in partnership with Churches to deliver services, and the guidance accompanying the recently refreshed Compact on Relations between Government and the Third Sector will aim to ensure that faith-based service providers are accessing their fair share of public funding.
Earlier this year the Government and the Church of England published Churches and Faith Buildings: Realising the Potential, to help churches and other and faith groups find resources to make their buildings more sustainable by enhancing the facilities and services they offer to local communities. The paper was produced by a joint working party involving Government departments and the Church of England.
The Government very much recognises the commitment of the Christian Churches to interfaith work, and was able to support this though grants to enable the Churches to play a prominent role in the recent Inter Faith Week. We have also been able to offer financial support to allow the vital work of the Christian Muslim Forum to continue.
The Governmentt announced in September that it would legislate to allow water companies to apply concessionary charges for community organisations such as churches, scout groups and amateur sports clubs. This will be taken forward through the Flood and Water Management Bill, currently before the House of Commons.
In the Face to Face and Side by Side strategy published last year, the Government set out – for the first time – its commitment to working with faith communities in addressing the challenges we all face in our local communities. The ‘inter faith strategy’ sets out details of a wide range of programmes that are available to churches making a difference in their communities.
Funding – there are all kinds of government grants available to churches and we are making it easier for faith groups to access funding to run local services too. But over £15million has been especially targeted for faith groups with the most recent £7.5m Faiths In Action fund still open to local churches (see www.cdf.org.uk).
Government has also invested in regional bodies which can help faith communities work more closely together and explain to local and regional agencies the vital role that faith communities have. The North West Forum of Faiths has produced a directory which shows that Christian churches contribute over £80million per annum to the regional economy.
Local Authorities – very often churches need to build strong relationships with their local council. To help this, the Government has published special guidance for local authorities to build their understanding of the role faith communities can play. This is being refreshed through a series of workshops across the country.
The Government recognises that church buildings form a very significant part of the nation’s built heritage, from vast Cathedrals to tiny hidden and humble gems. That is why it is funding a programme to appoint ‘Heritage Officers’ to support churches seeking funding to restore their buildings and has published a new report to help faith groups find resources to make faith buildings more sustainable by enhancing the facilities and services they offer to local communities.
Schools and universities – the Government has invested £1m in a Religious Education Action Plan to improve the quality of RE provision in schools and is working with faith schools to showcase (of which over 90% are Christian) the good work they are doing in the education sector.
Rural Churches – DEFRA facilitates the Rural Community Buildings Network and Rural Affairs Forum in which church groups play a very active role. It also has a £700,000 buildings loan fund which is available to rural churches.
Healthcare – the Government has taken unprecedented steps to recognise and value the importance of healthcare chaplaincy in the NHS, addressing the spiritual needs of patients and staff and making sure that national service frameworks are sensitive to the diverse needs of different faith communities. Recently it appointed a partner to help the NHS understand and work more effectively with faith groups in health provision.
The Government, through its close relationship with faith-based organisations such as Christian Aid and CAFOD, has led international progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Funding is provided to support twinning between churches and other community groups and partners overseas. Recently a commitment was announced to double development funding to faith groups in recognition of their delivery expertise and the trust they enjoy within communities.
This Government is resolutely pro-family. That is why there has been unparalleled practical support for families through programmes like Tax Credits providing extra money and Surestart centres providing extra advice.
Faith schools are a long-established part of the state school system in England. Parents should be able to choose the type of education and ethos they want for their children. In practice, voluntary aided faith schools have tended to receive 90% of funding for capital work from the DCSF.