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Church of England union calls for stipend increase from April 2025

31 May 2024

Alamy

Unite the Union HQ in Holborn, London

Unite the Union HQ in Holborn, London

THE C of E section of Unite the Union has called on the Archbishops’ Council to increase the national minimum stipend (NMS) and the national stipend benchmark (NSB) by eight per cent from next April. These increases would bring the NMS to £30,385, and the NSB to £32,472.

The submission, written by the Revd Sam Maginnis, who chairs Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates (CEECA), in the Faithworkers branch of Unite, warns of “a growing sense among frontline clergy that institutional expectations are adding to the pressures of ministry without proper reciprocal care and support”. He calls on the Archbishops’ Council to “take a lead in addressing these concerns by acting decisively to restore the value of the stipend after the recent period of high inflation”.

“I may be poor, but I’m better off than the Vicar”

In April, a seven-per-cent increase in the NMS, from £26,134 to £28,670 (News, 9 February), came into effect. CEECA, calling for an increase of 9.5 per cent, had warned of “chronic financial anxiety and hardship among clergy and their families” (News, 9 June 2023).

Both the NMS and the NSB are set by the Archbishops’ Council as the Church’s Central Stipends Authority. Recommendations are made the Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee.

The NMS applies to anyone in full-time stipendiary ministry. The NSB is a recommended figure set by the Archbishops’ Council each year, after consultation with diocesan boards of finance (DBFs) and the Church Commissioners. It provides a reference point for dioceses when they set their diocesan basic stipend for incumbents and priests-in-charge.

In its latest submission to the committee, CEECA says that, even factoring in the latest above-inflation increases, the NMS and NSB have both fallen behind CPIH (the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs) by about 5.8 per cent since April 2021. While acknowledging that inflation levels are falling, it observes that “high expenditure relative to income and outstanding debt particularly around energy bills remain a major source of financial hardship and stress in clergy households”.

In December 2021, after the committee’s review of clergy remuneration, the Archbishops’ Council adopted a policy that the NMS would increase, on average, by CPIH inflation, subject to three yearly reviews and being alert to sustained high levels of inflation. But, in the subsequent two years, increases were below inflation.

In January, the committee’s secretary, Kevin Norris, reported that the Archbishops’ Council was aware that, to “fully catch up with inflation”, the 2023 NMS would need to rise by 11.3 per cent, “which it recognised would be unaffordable for dioceses”. the remuneration committee and the Council were, he said, “concerned about the impact on clergy well-being and morale of stipends having fallen behind inflation”.

The CEECA submission argues that an eight-per-cent increase next year would “finally close the gap between stipends and inflation and ensure that most clergy can maintain an acceptable standard of living on their stipend. . .

“We recognise that any increase to the NMS and NSB must be made on the basis that such increases are affordable and sustainable in the long term; and while we anticipate that the dioceses will seek a lower increase to both figures, we believe it is vital that the NMS rises by eight per cent next year even if the NSB increases at a lower rate. This will help restore future pension benefits to an adequate level following the recent inflationary period and will not unduly affect diocesan finances as dioceses set their basic stipend by reference to the NSB, not the NMS.”

The submission draws attention to the predicament of retiring clergy, noting that the initial pension received on entering retirement is calculated with reference to the NMS in the previous tax year: “The high rates of inflation over the past three years, and the inability of the NMS to keep up, have placed hundreds of clergy at a severe financial disadvantage as they approach retirement, compounding the reduction in clergy pension benefits brought in from 2011 and adding to the anxiety around future quality of life at this significant transitional moment.”

It warns: “There is a growing sense among frontline clergy that institutional expectations are adding to the pressures of ministry without proper reciprocal care and support, fuelling a broader perception that their work and calling is no longer understood or valued by the institutional Church.

“If this perception and its root causes are left unchecked, then distrust and disillusionment among stipendiary clergy will only increase alongside stress and burnout, curtailing many fruitful ministries and the wider mission of the Church of England.”

The submission concludes by reiterating CEECA’s proposal of a dedicated fund “created from money provided by the Church Commissioners to supplement diocesan stipends bills where this is necessary to ensure all clergy in every diocese receive an adequate stipend”. An annual cost of £10 million to £15 million is estimated: “less than 0.15 per cent of the Commissioners’ total investment fund.”

In the General Synod in February, the Revd Dr Ian Paul introduced a private members’ motion calling for restoration of the clergy pension to its pre-2011 benefit level (News, 1 March). Introducing it, he noted that the NMS had fallen by ten per cent between 2009 and 2019 against the Retail Price Index, while the Commissioners’ assets had grown “significantly” to £10 billion.

The motion as carried incorporated an amendment from the chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s Finance Committee, Carl Hughes, which asked the Council, the Pensions Board, and the Commissioners to “work together with dioceses to explore ways in which the level of clergy pensions and stipends might be improved in a sustainable manner”.

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