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Churches’ £12.4 billion contribution to UK is under threat, Archbishops warn

18 October 2020

The House of Good report, by the National Churches Trust, was published on Sunday

National Churches Trust

A graphic from the House of Good report

A graphic from the House of Good report

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned that without state support the Church’s multi-billion-pound contribution to social welfare is in jeopardy.

In a statement released on Sunday to mark the launch of The House of Good, a report produced by the National Churches Trust, Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Cottrell, joint presidents of the trust, said that the pandemic had demonstrated how essential churches were in keeping communities going.

National Churches TrustAnother graphic from the House of Good report

“During lockdown, churches around the country continued to use their buildings for the benefit of society as people suffered the fallout of the pandemic. The value that church buildings provide in offering a space where all are welcomed and loved might be priceless, but looking after them has a very large cost.

“This report makes the argument for why it is appropriate for church-based community services to be funded by national government,” they write.

Using data from the 2020 National Churches Trust Survey, the report estimates that Britain’s 40,300 churches contribute £12.4 billion per year in terms of economic and social value to their communities: roughly the equivalent of what the Government spends on mental-health services in the NHS each year.

This total was reached using government-accepted methods of putting a monetary value to an in-kind contribution to community welfare, as set out in the Treasury’s Green Book. First, the National Churches Trust worked out what churches added to the surrounding economy in Gross Value Added (GVA) terms through what they spent on hiring staff, carrying out maintenance and repairs, paying bills, and hiring out facilities that could be used by other professional bodies.

This is combined with the help that churches provide for those with mental-health or addiction problems, services that would otherwise require local or national government spending. Also included is the work done by volunteers in churches that would otherwise be done by people paid the National Minimum Wage or more: wages that would need to be paid by government organisations or private companies.

This economic activity is conservatively estimated to be worth £2.4 billion per year.

In addition, the trust’s researchers used the Frijters and Krekel Economic Wellbeing-adjusted Life Year (WELLBY), once again a conservative method to quantify the well-being that people got from being part of a congregation. WELLBY measures life satisfaction on a scale of nought to ten, adding a value of £2500 for every one point increase — again, based on HM Treasury figures for what the NHS invests in every health improvement.

The Church’s contribution is estimated to be worth £10 billion per year, adding up to £12.4 billion overall.

The economic and social value contributed by each individual church is calculated at an average of £307,810 a year.

The object of the House of Good report is not to boast, but to campaign. The National Churches Trust points out that more than 900 church buildings are on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk register. Many more lack basic facilities such as kitchens or lavatories.

Although last year the trust was able to provide 188 grants worth £1.3 million to churches in need, this was only one quarter of what was applied for.

The report argues that government funding would be more than recompensed. It estimates that every £10 invested in church buildings brings a return to the community of £37.40.

The chief executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker, drew attention to how churches provided services that were not optional for many people: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, church buildings were placed in the same category as gyms and cinemas, and forced to lock down. But, for the most vulnerable in our society, the support church buildings offer is not a recreational choice — it’s an essential need — and lockdown served to highlight the increasing reliance of people on this support.

“These buildings have become our ‘National Help Service’, but it’s one we risk losing, and may never be able to replace, if these buildings do not get the financial support they need. Each year, we receive thousands of requests for help from churches desperately in need of repairing the roof, or installing kitchen facilities and toilets, but we are only able to fund a quarter of these.

“For this reason, we are urgently calling on local and national government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to recognise the continuing need for their support.”

The RC Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Revd George Stack, chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department for Christian Life and Worship. To coincide with the launch of the report, he said: “Foodbanks, night shelters, lunch clubs, food delivery, community centres, advice and counselling sessions, and so much else take place on church premises and in church halls, in historic buildings which are beloved by local communities.

“But the challenges of maintaining church buildings and their work is greater than ever because of an increasing scarcity of resources.”

On Monday, eight UK heritage trusts wrote a letter in The Times requesting help from local and national governments, saying that churches and chapels around the country are in urgent need of funds to keep their doors open and deal with repairs and maintenance issues. It was signed by the leaders of the National Churches Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust, Historic Churches Scotland, Scotland’s Churches Trust, the Ulster Historic Churches Trust, the Northern Ireland Places of Worship Forum, the Friends of Friendless Churches, and Addoldai Cymru (the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust).

They wrote: “The future of many churches, especially in deprived areas, is under threat due to crumbling roofs, deteriorating church halls, and inadequate kitchen and toilet facilities. Some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in our society rely on the services provided in church buildings for essential support and they will continue to do so as the Covid crisis persists over the winter.

“The funding that has recently been announced for churches in England through the Culture Recovery Fund demonstrates that the government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund recognise the contribution that churches make, and the importance of keeping church buildings in good repair. We are grateful for this and hope that similar support will be available throughout the UK.”

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