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Think tank Theos calls for creativity in responding to social issues

19 May 2017


Setting an example: a client with a helper at a dementia-friendly garden. The Christian group Livability is among five Christian charities which launched the hashtag #Faithtogether last month, to encourage churches to mobilise Christians to play a major part in the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness

Setting an example: a client with a helper at a dementia-friendly garden. The Christian group Livability is among five...

FAITH-BASED organisations are “highly motivated” to meet social need, but must adopt more innovative ways of doing so if they are to succeed, the religious and social affairs think tank Theos has concluded.

In its report Doing Good Better: The case for faith-based social innovation, published last Friday, Theos documents new ways in which some religious organisations are responding to social issues in the UK, such as community-support schemes for refugees, affordable-loans services, and family therapy.

But most social action projects are being delivered through small religious charities and congregations, it says, which often lack the knowledge and resources necessary to help vulnerable persons in more complex situations.

Meanwhile, too much attention has been given to the number of projects, volunteer hours, and income being credited to faith-based charities, the report says. “These data imply that the reach of faith-based social action (or social liturgy), is rapidly growing. We can — and should — celebrate this ‘more’.

“But. . . Sometimes, what is needed is not ‘more’ but ‘different’ — new ideas, new approaches, new practices. Many of the great social achievements of religious traditions have not been realised by doing the same thing more, but by pioneering and applying new approaches.”

The author of the report, Paul Bickley, who is head of Theos’s political programme, said it was likely that faith groups would have to compete with government budget cuts: “That means they’ll have to change the way they approach social action, making sure they’re tackling the problems at their root and in the most effective way. Religious groups will need more and different kinds of funding to do their work in future.”

Churches and religious groups must build better relationships with investors, recognise skilled and experienced individuals, and appoint leaders for social action, the report says. It suggests that as many as ten million adults could be using church or church-based community services a year, should these measures be implemented.

A separate report from the Office of National Statistics, also released last Friday, suggests that most indicators of social capital in the UK have improved over the past three years. It analyses four areas: personal relationships, social-support networks, civic engagement (for example, involvement in community or politics), and trust.

More people are volunteering in the UK today than seven years ago, it says, and a fifth of people are giving “special help” to at least one sick, disabled, or elderly person. Membership of political, voluntary, professional, or recreational organisations has remained steady at about 53 per cent of the population.

This was offset by an increase in the number of people involved with political events — up from 17 per cent in 2006 to 34 per cent in 2012 — which, the report says, contributes to “improved social integration” within communities.

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