Prior to a General Election, MPs offices get sent a fair few manifestos. These are not the manifestos of other political parties but the specific asks of charities and lobby groups framing their pre-election pitch.
In many ways production of a manifesto is a novel way for an organisation to distil its key aims into a digestible form. Whether or not a political party can or will accede to these demands is a different matter.
The FaithAction Manifesto ‘Faith too significant to ignore’ released this week is distinct in a number of key ways. These distinctions are:
As Daniel Singleton, National Executive Director, says in introducing the Manifesto:
Faith groups are, and always will be significant to civil society. They are familiar with many of the issues found in our communities and are involved in the solutions.
Faith communities are not some glorified extension of the local social services department and must never be co-opted by the state or political forces. However, the church in particular has always had a role in serving the most poor and marginalised communities, in season and out of season. The ResPublica report published in the summer of 2013 recognised this vital and sometimes unsung role.
In the current environment of restricted finance and evolving notions of public service is now the time to seek a new settlement to allow social action to flourish? Faith communities provide a plethora of much needed services and their role in brokering the common good is critical. This was noted in a report by the Evangelical Alliance which stated that:
Faith groups make a vast contribution to their local communities across a range of predictable and surprising activities. Repeatedly local authorities cited the role of food banks, Street Pastors and debt advice centres. Other activities were identified which demonstrate the ‘cradle to grave’ support that faith communities provide, from caring for the young and the elderly to helping with dog training and anger management.
The FaithAction Manifesto is a practical contribution to enrich the debate; it is informed by practitioners and might provide the framework and tools to turn rhetoric into reality. The Manifesto contains seven proposals, which I encourage you to reflect upon. I feel its two most significant propositions are as follows:
Local Authorities should adopt the Covenant developed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society.
The Covenant is an agreement between faith communities and local authorities to provide a basis for joint working. It was pioneered by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. The Manifesto calls upon faith leaders to advocate the Covenant to their local authorities.
Avoid treating faith merely as a sub-group of the voluntary sector
The Manifesto is attempting to demonstrate how deep values drive faith inspired social action, their identity is distinct and they aren’t just a religious arm of the voluntary sector. If good relationships can be fostered between faith groups and local political leaders then misunderstanding can be minimised.
The Manifesto reflects an understanding of the policy environment and some of the barriers that faith groups have faced in the delivery of social value. In proposing a Covenant a potential framework is proposed to allow the practical development of faith based initiatives in a way that could offer clarity to all involved. The Manifesto is also forward thinking in proposing the appointment of a Cabinet level Minister for Faith Based Organisation to advocate within Government for this agenda.
The re-assertion of interest in civic society in recent political debate has been one of the most interesting facets of recent years. Church and faith based groups are the engine of civil society and these practical proposals could provide a practical expression for those who, like me, wish this movement to be broader and deeper.