This Manifesto makes 7 sensible and pragmatic proposals to policy makers and politicians, at both the local and national levels of government, whose work brings them into contact with the diversity of religious traditions in the UK today.
A few areas strike me as particularly timely and important and reflect the findings of research carried out by the Centre for Religion and Public Life with Leeds City Council (LCC) about its engagement with faith and belief. One of our recommendations to LCC was for the Council to publish a clear strategy for engagement with religious communities which outlines the parameters and limits of engagement. This has led to Leeds City Council adopting the Covenant developed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society on March 5th 2015 (Faith Manifesto proposal 1).
From my experience, and also reflected in the Faith Manifesto, there is a lack of knowledge about the nature, scale and scope of faith based social action in local areas in the UK. A key component of any mapping of faith based social action (Faith Manifesto proposal 2) could usefully include a detailed audit of existing Council engagements (formal and informal) with religious groups to help identify common patterns of engagement and develop metrics for measuring effectiveness.
However, engagement between state actors and faith groups is not always straightforward. While as the manifesto notes, there is great scope for the ‘assets’ owned and managed by faith groups to be better used for the benefit of local communities, including the use of faith buildings for more public services (Faith Manifesto proposal 7), this cannot be assumed or taken for granted. In a climate where the marketisation of service delivery and the emergence of the ‘faith based organisation’ as a partner for, or replacement of, state providers (realised in the so-called ‘Big Society’ agenda) it must also be recognised that religious organisations do not offer free services or that they necessarily view their primary role as service providers (Faith Manifesto proposal 6).
The Covenant is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities, developed by The All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. It is a set of principles that guide engagement, aiming to remove some of the mistrust that exists and to promote open, practical working on all levels.
Faith is woven through the very fabric of voluntary endeavour.
We are not a single cause or a minority group. We have always been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of delivering solutions in society. Sometimes, our work carries a faith label, but often it does not. As one of our members tweeted, “The social action of faith groups is not some additional icing on the cake”.
While many faith communities do open their buildings for public use, many more could offer a greater range of public services with support and encouragement.
This will benefit local agencies, the faith group and local residents. Furthermore, buildings are only one element of the accumulated assets of faith groups. Wisdom, know-how and track record have amassed over many years. These assets need intelligent support, not just formulaic contracts.
Even services that are not charged for directly have a cost that ought to be recognised. Faith based communities offer places of belonging, rehabilitation, healing, learning, creativity and transformation. Built on relationships, services often have low transactional costs.
Faith groups are good at making things happen even when money is limited because they have a ‘values bottom line’ concerned with making a difference more than making a profit. Sometimes these are organised in a way that necessitates a funding agreement. We call on funders to contribute to the associated costs of delivering projects – a budget line in proposals, tenders and bids to recognise long term social investment should be permitted.