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Faith groups enhance ‘wellbeing’ in London

19 July 2019

Report on hate crime cites benefits of community groups in the capital

Faith and Belief Forum

Members of the Faith and Belief conference at Birkbeck College, University of London, in May 2018

Members of the Faith and Belief conference at Birkbeck College, University of London, in May 2018

FAITH groups in London can “enhance a sense of belonging” in communities by reducing tensions and welcoming people from outside the community and country, the Faith and Belief Forum has said in its latest report.

Faith groups can also provide access to “life-enhancing services” for isolated people, and “alleviate deprivation” by helping to provide employment and housing and addressing the causes of poverty, it says.

The report, Hate Crime, Faith and Belonging, released last week, is based on a conference held at Birkbeck College, University of London, in May 2018, at which academics, charity directors, and faith leaders discussed the impact of hate crime on faith groups and communities in London.

It was written by Jonathan D. Smith, Lenita Törning, Ben Gidley, and Ruth Sheldon, in partnership with the Faith and Belief Forum. It states: “For many Londoners, their faith or belief provides a sense of belonging and is a source of wellbeing. At times local faith and belief groups may contribute to exclusion and social division, yet people motivated by their diverse faiths and beliefs also make important contributions to creating a sense of belonging for their neighbours.”

The report identifies difficulties with defining religious hate-crime, including whether the perpetrator believes the attack to be religiously motivated, and the difference between hate crime and expressing religious beliefs.“These complex challenges highlight the need for public conversations, and better education about hate speech and hate crime.”

The most common types of religious hate-crime in the UK are anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, it says, although Sikh communities, for example, are also targeted, having been “mistaken” for Muslims. The most likely victims of religious hate-crime are singled out owing to visible symbols of faith, such as wearing a hijab, the kippah, or a turban.

Reported hate-crimes have increased by 30 per cent since the EU referendum in 2016. Victims can suffer “severe emotional damage” and physical injuries, the report says. It emphasises the importance of victim support and community cohesion.

The authors write: “Because every Londoner is affected by hate crimes to varying degrees, we all have a part to play in responding to hate crime. Our responses to hate crime demonstrate who belongs and what values we share as Londoners. Any positive response to hate crime, however small, promotes the message on the cover of this report: ‘We are better than this.’”

Last week, the Government increased funding for places of worship to protect against potential hate-crimes to £1.6 million, in response to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year (News, 22 March).

Applicants to the protective-security funding scheme, now in its fourth year, no longer have to prove that they have experienced hate crime, only that they are vulnerable to it.

More than 300 faith institutions have expressed an interest in applying to the scheme. Since 2016, 150 faith institutions have received a share of £1.5 million. The Home Secretary, Sajid David, said: “Places of worship are at the heart of our communities, and should provide peace and sanctuary.”

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