Danny Kruger MP has published his report, Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant, which he prepared at the request of the Prime Minister. It includes a section headed “A new deal with faith communities” in which he notes that before the welfare state, social support was provided by parishes, independent charities, foundations, friendly societies, mutuals, trades unions, cooperatives and churches and that every faith “has charity, and particularly voluntary financial redistribution, at its heart: the Jewish and Christian tithe, the Sikh dasvandh, the Muslim zakhat, the Hindu dana“.
He also notes that the Churches in the UK are estimated to have five million members, have deep roots in local communities, often have big buildings in the heart of communities – including the poorest ones – and a combined annual revenue of £11 billion per year; almost 20 per cent of total charitable income. According to the last Census, there were almost 4.5 million members of non-Christian faith communities in 2011, who in 2016 together raised just over £5 billion. He further notes that faith communities generally operate outside the aegis of local government and the public services: partly intentionally, but partly also because “many faith groups lack the professionalism and the willingness to cooperate, that are necessary for proper partnerships with the public sector”. He regards that distancing as “a very bad thing” and suggests that public servants are often reluctant to partner with faith-based organisations, sometimes through simple ignorance but too often from what he describes as “faith phobia”: an active objection to the principle of faith communities working in partnership with government based on an assumption that religious belief belongs in the private sphere.
He proposes “a new deal with faith communities”:
“The Government should invite the country’s faith leaders to make a grand offer of help on behalf of their communities, in exchange for a reciprocal commitment from the state. For each faith group, the offer would include the commitment to mobilise their congregations and commit their resources to tackling one or more besetting social problem in our society: problem debt, or children in care, or prisoner rehabilitation, or rough sleeping, or something else. This may be a national mission – to provide foster places for every child in care in England, for instance – or local places may be asked to choose, from a menu of missions, one that suits local needs and capabilities. Either way, the faith group would work with government to agree a way of working, including where appropriate a set of proven interventions and methodologies, which it would deliver with the permission of the relevant statutory agencies. The faith group would commit to fully funding this work from its own resources.
Rather than money, the reciprocal commitment by government would consist of a direction, from the very top, to all public servants to facilitate the work of the faith group on the agreed mission or missions” [bold in original].
His solution: “a coalition to tackle some of the wicked social problems that faith groups, working in partnership with the state, are best placed to tackle”:
“I have held discussions with church leaders in which there was a widespread willingness to work together and with government to tackle a social challenge or challenges in the strategic way described. The resources are certainly there. I am assured that, if a deal were done with government and the call went out to the Church, a total of £500 million could be raised over the next five years. This comes on top of the £900 million committed by the Church of England from its £9 billion endowment (Queen Anne’s Bounty, set up in 1708 in the wake of the worst economic crisis until this one) which is going to the poorest parishes in the country. There is potentially £1.4 billion on the table – not a penny of it from the taxpayer.
I have described the outlines of a deal with the Christian church as it is the largest faith community and the one with the greatest reach across the country. A similar deal will be possible with each of England’s faith communities, though each will look different. What they have in common is a commitment to serving mankind that transcends the dull utilities of technocratic secular liberalism, and is more powerful for it. This commitment is often regarded suspiciously as ‘proselytism’. Yet the fact that most religious people wish the whole world to agree with them does not mark them as different from secular liberals, who also wish their theology to be universal. A tolerant society has space for all.”
Although this is very much at the margins of what we would regard as “law & religion”, it is likely to influence the Government’s thinking over the next few years, if only because it was commissioned by Boris Johnson. Furthermore, a “grand offer” from faith communities to use their own resources to help the Government to tackle social problems would be music to ministerial ears at a time when the UK economy is under enormous strain. What is less clear is whether Kruger’s proposed “reciprocal commitment by government” to “a direction, from the very top, to all public servants to facilitate the work of the faith group on the agreed mission or missions” represents very much in return.