A FIFTH of local
authorities are channelling money earmarked for people in crisis to
churches, to fund services such as foodbanks, health care, and
counselling, new research shows. One council has transferred its
entire budget to a church-based project.
Of the 144 local
authorities, from a total of 152 who responded to a Church
Times Freedom of Information request, 30 said that they had
agreements with churches to respond to residents in need of
Most of these involved
foodbanks, and churches were either reimbursed for each food parcel
or given a lump-sum grant. Other local authorities are transferring
significant sums to church-based projects.
The results show that
churches are deeply involved in delivering care to people in
crisis, and that local authorities trust them to do so. Staff at
projects identified in the research said that they had been
approached by the local council because of their expertise in
responding to people in crisis. They emphasised that they offered
support to all, not just to those of a particular faith.
The Church Times
asked each local authority about how the Local Welfare Provision
(LWP) money allocated to it by the Department of Work and Pensions
would be spent in 2013-14. The LWP has replaced the Social Fund,
abolished in April. It is administered differently around the
The Government allocated
£230 million through the Social Fund in 2009-10. The LWP pot for
2013-14, shared between local authorities, is £178 million. Steve
Webb, a minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, told
councils last year that the Government expected the funding "to be
concentrated on those facing greatest difficulty in managing their
income, and to enable a more flexible response to unavoidable need,
perhaps through a mix of cash or goods, and aligning with the wider
range of local support that local authorities/devolved
administrations already offer".
The strongest church involvement we found was in Kent.
Medway Council received an LWP allocation of £663,252, and said
that, until a long-term provider was in place, 100 per cent of
expenditure was going to an "interim provider", Caring Hands, an
outreach project of King's Church, Medway (see panel). The
project provides hot freshly cooked food, a foodbank, a clothes-
and shoe-bank, showers, an on-site GP, counselling, and guidance on
housing, employment, and welfare benefits. It is bidding for the
council's long-term contract.
Rather than issue a cash
loan, most local authorities are offering non-monetary support,
such as vouchers for foodbanks, or referrals to furniture
Staff at various church projects voiced their concern about the
shift to a cashless system of support, a potential postcode lottery
of support, and the adequacy of the overall funding. They reported
concerns that not everyone who fulfilled the councils' eligibility
criteria could be helped, although this did not mean that they were
turned away by the churches.
MATTHEW GUEST, the senior
pastor at King's Church, and founder of Caring Hands, said that the
organisation had been approached about the LWP because "we are
covering such a wide area with a lot of people who are quite needy,
and we have got a reputation for being able to work with these
"My vision is that the localised church
and localised government should work in excellence together. The
trouble is, the church has generally got a reputation for its
jumble sales and save-our-church-roof campaigns rather than
good-quality business acumen, and excellence in service provision,
which is our desire."
People referred to Caring Hands by
jobcentres or the social services are assessed for eligibility.
Staff then go with them to buy what they need, from beds to washing
machines, or a top-up for their gas or electric card. This
eliminated fraud in the system, Mr Guest said.
He believes that this is a better
response than the cash loans of the Social Fund: "Anything is open
to abuse, and people get caught in a system of dependency. Our
ethos is not a hand-out: it is to hand up. . .
"With the council, people were just going
and pleading their case, and they got something, or did not. With
us, it's a more personal service. Even if they do not qualify, we
can still help them through Caring Hands."
There was a "bit of disgruntlement" in
the first few weeks from people accustomed to receiving a loan, he
said, "but now, it is fine. A lot of these guys, we were already
working with them through Caring Hands. . . So this is just another
area [where] we are able to bring a holistic approach to social
Mr Guest believes that other churches
should "absolutely" be bidding for LWP contracts: "The Church has
relinquished its responsibilty to the Government. So much of
education, health, welfare reform, started in the Church, and I
think the Church has got the mindset and the mandate to be able to
deliver exactly what the community needs."
KIRKLEES has been allocated
£1,119,027, of which £41,300 has been assigned to the Huddersfield
Methodist Mission, which runs a café that offers hot food, advice,
and support. The money will enable the mission to employ an
additional support worker.
When asked about the change
to a cashless system of support, the manager of the mission, Paul
Bridges (below), said: "It depends on how it is done. For us, one
of the key things is respect and dignity."
Reliance on food parcels, he
said, meant that churches and other organisations needed to ask
"tough questions" of the Government. "Why is it that half a million
people need food parcels? . . . Why have we got a society where
that is the case?"
Other local authorities
working with churches include Cheshire East, with an LWP allocation
of £612,032. It has approved grants of £78,000, of which £45,000
goes to church-based projects.
£407,268, said that it had a contract with King's Church to provide
crisis support through a foodbank. It estimates that expenditure on
food vouchers for 2013-14 will be £58,856. King's Church will also
provide second-hand furniture as part of the local welfare
provision, and expenditure is estimated at £13,575.
Peterborough has been given
£803,904, and has allocated £75,000 to KingsGate Community Church
to support the five foodbanks that it runs in the city.
MATT BIRD, who founded and chairs the Cinnamon Network,
which supports churches involved in community projects, said that
there now existed "a historic, unprecedented opportunity for the
Church to step up to help those people most at need in our
"Non-monetary support is the best way to help those
people most at need in our communities, because it is faster, more
practical, and is less likely to be abused," he said this week.
"Churches receiving statutory funding need to protect their
Christian ethos, guard against mission-drift because they are
'following the money', and to hold in tension their responsibility
to both care for the poor and challenge government
The co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty, Niall
Cooper, said that theChurch Timesresearch was "on balance, an
encouraging and a positive sign that churches are working in
partnership with local authorities to serve their local
He said: "The key thing about the safety net is that it
is comprehensive, non-judgemental, accessible, and provided
without discrimination to all, on the basis of need. Churches and
church-based charities have a long and honourable tradition of
co-operating with the state to provide schooling, child and elderly
care, and housing provision."
He expressed concern, however, about the process by
which the Social Fund was being replaced, including the risk of a
"As far as I am aware, there has been virtually no
public debate - or even visibility, let alone accountability - as
to the criteria that each local authority is using. Many of the
schemes have been put together seemingly in great haste. [That]
would give me great concerns that a significant number of schemes
have not been thought through properly, or properly researched, and
will fail to offer the support that people genuinely
Mr Cooper is also "deeply worried about the general
trend away from cash payments", which "fits with the increasingly
prevalent narrative that poverty is people's own fault - and that
people in poverty cannot be trusted to make the right decisions
with their money. This runs alongside the pernicious stereotypes
of people in poverty's spending all their money on drink and
alcohol rather than food, fuel, and children."
Foodbanks and other local church projects "cannot be an
adequate substitute for a proper safety net, which has been
provided by the Welfare State for more than the past 60 years.
There is a real danger that we are sleepwalking towards the
American model of welfare, with wholly inadequate benefit levels,
and the institutionalised use of food stamps, food handouts, and
"If this becomes the norm here, it will truly set us
back to Dickensian times."