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Leader: A patchwork cannot give blanket cover

FOR ALL the jargon words about social welfare provision, the categories used by Christ to describe those in need of care (in Matthew 25) still hold good: naked, sick, in prison. The duty of the Christian is unambiguous: he or she is to clothe, care for, and visit those who suffer. In every generation there will be those drawn to a faith that concentrates on praise and worship; and others whose passion is to make the gospel known more widely. But a key part of the good news is that love, the fuel of God’s kingdom, is already released into the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. Nor is there any doubt among the New Testament writers that those who do the will of God by caring for the poor, sick, and imprisoned — for whatever reason, whether believers or not — are, indeed, doing the will of God.

This is an important consideration when the Church looks at how it cares for the poor in the 21st century. One of the key findings of Moral, But No Compass, described here by Bishop Lowe, is that the Church has not really looked at how it cares for the poor. It is, perhaps, unfair to expect the Government to have a decent grasp of the Church’s welfare activities when there is no overall strategy, no central gathering of statistics, no co-ordination between dioceses and independent agencies, and, most important of all, no consistency about what the Church can provide from one part of the country to another.

Of course, the last thing the Church wants is to set up a bureaucracy in parallel to the state’s; but neither would it want to tie itself to a state organisation and lose its freedom to act swiftly in response to local need. The Church cannot offer to fund teams of professional carers, but neither can it promise to provide a range of services beyond the ability and expertise of its volunteer workers. Examples can be found of all methods of organisation and co-operation, but, as the Von Hügel Institute report found, the Church’s welfare work is inevitably patchy. This being the case, it is essential that the Church’s patchwork pieces are fixed to those provided by other agencies, either faith-based, charitable, or state. Without this, yet more holes in the fabric will appear for the poor and disadvantaged to fall through.

Church schools are a good model for other areas of social work. Clearly, no other field of social provision has such a huge legacy from earlier centuries (predating secular provision); none the less, many lessons can be learnt from the church-school sector about the balance between independence and reliance on the state. Until recently, it might also have been argued that, in this instance at least, the Church’s value was recognised by the Government. In the past few months, however, it seems that, even here, there are figures in the Government who are not comfortable with partnership.

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