FAITH communities have been pivotal in supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable groups during the pandemic, a new report says.
The Government will require their active support and investment if it is to accelerate the process of recovery, says the report, Stepping Up and Stepping Out, released on Thursday by the Good Faith Partnership.
The partnership, founded in 2016 to work on cross-sector projects such as migration and refugees, suggests that the challenge to respond to unprecedented levels of need in their communities has enabled many faith groups to build their capacity to help others. As a result, it says: “Our faith communities stand ready to serve our nationwide recovery in the days, months and years ahead.”
The report calls for a social covenant for the post-Covid recovery phase that would strengthen partnerships between faith communities and the Government, local authorities, and government agencies. It seeks a “culture of co-creation”, and an increased commitment to invest in the work of faith groups, “harnessing the power of public funding, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship”.
A key recommendation is the appointment of a Faiths Commissioner, on the model of the Children’s Commissioner, together with an expert panel of faith leaders, with the object of seeking more integrated ways of working.
The partnership’s survey identifies three principal areas of concern in the months and years ahead: mental health and well-being; unemployment; and poverty. It sheds light on the powerful religious motivations that drive faith groups to work for social transformation. Its research follows the Levelling up Communities report, written by Danny Kruger MP, and the Keeping the Faith report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, writes in a foreword to the report about the importance of creating positive connectivity and collaboration between faith groups, government, and local authorities. Speaking at the launch, she commended the imaginative ways that churches had worked.
The pandemic, she said, “has shown us where the fault-lines are in our society, and the deprivation that was always there. . . I hope this social covenant would be a spiritual covenant, too — as important to our society as the social factor.
“I do feel that, during the past 15 months, the Government has better understood that our places of worship are at the heart of their communities. It has begun to understand our language, so that we are able better to articulate to our communities some of the things that need articulating, in the language that they understand.
“Places of worship, faith communities, have a huge wealth to offer our communities. [The Government] have to keep a dialogue going. They have to keep talking to us, listening, and making conversation — an ongoing conversation, not a one-off in the crisis of the pandemic.”
Mr Kruger spoke at the launch about how to build on the outpouring of neighbourliness. “Before the welfare state, church was the safety net for communities,” he said. “We need to recover our roots in faith communities. We have in them a set of assets, of which money is the least exciting, though significant. Among them is the number of volunteers, people with a commitment to go above and beyond rather than providing some transactional service. We have buildings which are gathering places for the neighbourhood.”
Mr Kruger acknowledged that “not all the works that faiths do are totally benign. Not everything is marvellous. Often, we can be unaccountable, and sometimes we can treat symptoms, not causes, and exacerbate those causes. We have to be very deliberate about doing the right thing, and not just having the right motives. This should be a reciprocal commitment by government to facilitate the work of faith groups at all levels.” He advised the Government: “Get over any faith phobias you have.”
The Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office, Lord Greenhalgh, said that the response of faith communities had been remarkable. He particularly thanked places of worship for opening up as vaccination centres, and for the part they played in helping the vaccine-hesitant.
He emphasised: “We need to increase faith literacy in Whitehall, to have a greater understanding of faith. [Similarly] it is important for faith communities to know how we operate and engage.”