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Some clergy struggle, but pay package to remain unchanged

24 June 2021

Review rules out rise in stipend, but calls for targeted support


CLERGY pay is adequate and appropriate for most clergy, and will stay at its present level, a review of the remuneration package for stipendiary clergy office-holders in parochial ministry concludes. It calls for targeted support for a minority of clergy who face hardship, however.

The review was requested by the House of Clergy in 2018, and commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council. There has been no review of the clergy package — which equates on average to £50,000 — since the Generosity and Sacrifice report of 2001. Some of the aspirations of that earlier review had “proved unaffordable or perhaps unrealistic”, the review body notes. It acknowledges “a need to avoid overpromising in the recommendations of this review”.

The 2020-21 review incorporated a diocesan consultation and an extensive survey of 3700 clergy. Sixty-two per cent said that they were “living comfortably or doing all right”; 25 per cent were “just getting by”; and 13 per cent were finding it “quite or very difficult to manage”. The 40-to-49 age group contained the highest proportion of clergy reporting that they were finding it difficult to manage.

Clergy with two or more children and no additional household income were more likely to report finding it difficult to manage financially. Those with disabilities, and UK minority-ethnic (UKME) clergy, were more likely to report that they were experiencing financial hardship, although the finding for the latter group was based on a small data sample.

The review acknowledges that the value of the package has declined in real terms, and also recognises that “an appropriate and affordable package will be more than adequate to some and a struggle for others. The pandemic has brought additional challenges to affordability.”

It concludes: “We do not consider a stipend uplift across the board to be the best way of supporting clergy experiencing financial difficulties. Rather, additional targeted support should be provided for those clergy in dioceses who are experiencing particular financial hardship, along with greater availability of financial education, signposting and empowerment.”

Neither the survey nor the consultation revealed support for radical change. Generally, there was support for remuneration to be consistent across dioceses, and limited support for stipend differentials for parish appointments, based on an assessment of the level of responsibility that the post involved. There was broad support for maintaining the provided housing, but with scope for some additional flexibility within and beyond the existing framework.

Limited capacity to increase funding for clergy remuneration through giving, and through increases in parish-share payments, was acknowledged. “Any increase in the cost of clergy remuneration would create undue financial pressure for dioceses,” the report says. “The Church Commissioners have indicated that they do not consider they are in a position to fund improvements across the board in the package, and in any case, this would represent a significant reversal of current policy.”

The value of the package also needed to be seen in the context of a decline in real income for many people, resulting from a prolonged period when UK average earnings had not kept pace with inflation, the report says. It rejects basing the level of stipend entirely on individual need, “as this would involve means testing, which would be bureaucratic, intrusive, difficult and costly to administer”.

Although the existing package is deemed still adequate and appropriate, it is acknowledged not to have kept up with inflation. Key among the 19 recommendations of the report is that the Church needs to make a commitment to maintaining its overall value against inflation in the future.

It also suggests ways of developing clergy financial resilience, and helping them to save and prepare for retirement. It recommends better communication of the value of the package, including publishing an annual statement of the value of its elements. The review committee is mindful that the priorities for the next ten years, emerging from the Vision and Strategy plan, are likely to affect models of mission and ministry in the future.

Financial well-being is part of clergy well-being, the report emphasises. “This means that the Church as a whole has an obligation to ensure that the clergy are equipped with the necessary financial skills and that stipends and pensions support clergy well-being and ability to flourish in ministry.”

It says that clergy should take responsibility for preparing for retirement, learn to save where possible, be financially responsible, and be given opportunities to “develop their skills in financial management”. Parishioners should be “generous and regular in giving, in accordance with their means, to raise the money for stipends, pensions, and parochial expenses”. Bishops “should have awareness of the financial needs of their clergy, and be proactive in offering assistance and support and training where this is needed”.

All this “may require a change of culture including greater knowledge and understanding by bishops and archdeacons of the issues and pressures individual clergy face” and “a move away from a rather paternalistic culture where clergy were seen as objects of charitable assistance to one where they are supported and encouraged to take responsibility for their own finances, present and future”.

It recognises that the value of the package will be “perceived differently by different people with different family and financial circumstances”. The survey identifies that the clergy responding had a wide range of household incomes, from under £30,000 to more than £100,000: “What is adequate for one clergy household may not be adequate for another.”

Factors such as the earnings of a spouse or partner, or the number of dependants, have a considerable effect on the standard of living of the clergy household, it says. It advises: “There will come a point when the number of dependants may mean that an individual’s stipend, whilst being adequate to the majority of households, will not be sufficient for such households and will therefore need additional help and support.

“Some of the differences in how clergy value the package may be about perceptions, expectations, and other factors rather than the level of the stipend; for example, the standard of living before ordination, and how their standard of living compares with that of their parishioners.

“Not feeling valued, or perceived unfairness (such as when the provided housing is considered to be poorly maintained) can have an adverse effect on how the value of the package is perceived by clergy.”

The report reveals that the average amount of housing allowance paid was £7961. The lowest was £415, and the highest was £27,987. Fifty-three per cent of survey respondents owned or were making payments on a residential property that they did not live in. The review acknowledges “a mixed picture with some clergy already having housing for retirement or able to save and buy a property to live in for retirement, while others are unable to save for retirement at all”.

The report recommends that further work should be carried out, in collaboration with external experts and church-based organisations, on exploring possible options to help clergy get on the housing ladder.

There was concern that the package alone was not adequate for clergy with additional needs. An application to the Triennium Funding working group is recommended, to set up a diversity fund that could be used to help clergy with disabilities who face additional costs.

With regard to expenses, while 54 per cent of clergy were always able to claim reimbursement for working expenses in full, and 26 per cent were “usually” able to do so, 9.5 per cent reported that they were rarely or never able to do so, and a further 9.8 per cent that they were sometimes not able to do so. The review recommends that “every diocese should have a discussion about expenses and how to ensure fair treatment in this area.”

There are recommendations on financial education and empowerment, and on pointing clergy to sources of additional help. There “should not be an assumption that the initiative in asking for financial help or additional support should be with individual clergy alone, as this can sap energy, reduce motivation and confidence and makes them feel undervalued”.

Read the Bishop of Hereford’s response to the clergy pay proposals

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