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No grounds for proselytising fears, says charity report

06 January 2017


FEARS that faith-based charities will proselytise, or prioritise bene­ficiaries who adhere to the same faith, are unfounded, a new report has concluded.

In the report What a Difference a Faith Makes, a charity think tank, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), suggests that faith-based charities should clarify their po­­sition on proselytism, despite the fact that there is “little evidence” to justify fears.

Its survey of 134 such charities found that they were, generally, “incredibly inclusive”. Just 5.4 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that they worked only with beneficiaries of the same faith, and 55 per cent strongly disagreed. Asked about the state­ment “Through our activities we aim to increase the number of people who share our faith,” 23 per cent strongly disagreed, and 19 per cent strongly agreed. The authors em­­phasise, however, that tensions can exist between a charity and some volunteers who hold its faith.

The research was carried out to shed light on a sector that NPC believes to be ill-understood by the sector or public at large. Some are even “actively suspicious” of faith-based charities, which make up more than a quarter of all charities in Britain, and, in some areas, including overseas aid, almost half.

The authors conclude that a grounding in faith can help char­ities to “persevere with causes others may see as hopeless”; make them “more resilient” to changes in the policy and funding environ­ment; enable them to engage hard-to-reach vulnerable groups; and help them to deliver “culturally appropriate services that consider a person’s spiritual needs”.

It calls for more discussion about these positive aspects, but also “more tackling head-on of critiques and concerns”.

The political climate has shifted, the report says, from “strong prac­tical and financial support” for faith organisations, under Tony Blair, to “diminishing support” under the Coalition and Con­servative govern­ments. This has “paved the way towards what some would say is a hostile attitude: for instance, to­­wards Muslim char­ities”. Its research found that Muslim charities were “hyper-aware” of negative stereotypes of Muslims, and that this had led to “a situation in which Muslim charities are disengaging from each other and the wider charity sector”.

It suggests that, while faith-based char­ities can help to create social capital, this can also make com­munities “insular and introverted”, and that this has been linked to segregation, and the rise of extreme views.

Speaking at the launch, the Labour MP Stephen Timms, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, said that, in recent years, the Government had become “much less willing to be criticised” by charities, which had subsequently become “cowed”.

”It does worry me that ministers talk about religion as if it is in­­herently a problem,” he said: there was still “wariness” among local authorities about engaging with faith-based groups, which were re­­garded as “a bit odd”. Yet faith groups offered the “best prospect” of renewing values in Britain.

NPC conducted an analysis of Charity Commission data, literature review, a survey of faith-based charities, and qualitative research. It found that nearly two-thirds of the 49,881 faith-based charities were Christian.

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