Does government ‘do God?’: recommendations of the Westminster Government’s Independent Faith Engagement Adviser

Does government ‘do God?’, the report by Colin Bloom, the Government’s Independent Faith Engagement Adviser and a former Chair of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, has been published under the auspices of DLUHC. Mr Bloom’s brief was to provide the Secretary of State with recommendations on how government should engage with faith groups in England. Its original aims were to identify:

  • what the Government can do to recognise and support the contribution of faith organisations within communities;
  • how best to break down barriers and promote acceptance between faith groups, including those of no faith or belief, and creating opportunities for co-operation
  • the steps the Government can take to promote shared values and tackle cultures and practices that are harmful;
  • how the Government can promote, in parallel to freedom of religion, the values of freedom of speech, democracy, the rule of law and equality; and
  • how the Civil Service can improve its faith literacy and the steps the Government can take to ensure that it fully carries out its role in relation to faith and belief under the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The report makes 22 detailed recommendations, which we list below without comment:

Recommendation 1: Government should expand the role of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief to include the promotion and protection of religious freedom in the UK. Government should be equally vigilant regarding the protections and freedoms of religion, belief and faith at home as it is overseas.

Recommendation 2: Government should learn from the Faith New Deal pilot fund, launched in September 2021 following the recommendations set out in the 2020 Kruger review ‘Levelling up our communities’, and consider ways of proactively partnering with places of worship in a Faith Partnership Charter to support their broader local community. By December 2023, every local council should be signed up to a Faith Partnership Charter with their places of worship.

Recommendation 3: Government should adopt the working definitions for ‘religion’, ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ [which the report then goes on to define]. These should become the collective and common understandings across government and its agencies and should be published on the GOV.UK website and the intranet for each central government department within six months of this report being published.

Recommendation 4: Government should take steps to ensure that everyone on the public payroll, including civil servants in Whitehall and local councils, NHS and public health staff, teachers in schools, colleges and universities, and police, prison and probation officers, are provided with consistent, quality faith literacy training, overseen by the Independent Faith Champion’s Office as outlined in recommendation 6. This should include training on the freedom of religion or belief enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equalities Act 2010, greater understanding of faith-specific practices including the public expression of religious belief, awareness of intra-faith matters and sensitive issues such as forced marriages, and financial and other forms of faith-based exploitation. The training should be developed by trusted partners and sectoral experts to ensure appropriate parameters are in place.

Recommendation 5: Government should learn from the effective faith engagement programmes initiated during the pandemic and hold regular roundtables with senior, serious and national faith leaders. These should be governed by a sophisticated mechanism of discernment, with all groups having the right to speak and be heard at appropriate levels, to ensure fairness in output with a consistent outcome.

Recommendation 6: Government should appoint an Independent Faith Champion. The Independent Faith Champion should have a well-resourced team of civil servants and sectoral experts to act as advisers and support government departments on both interfaith and intra-faith matters. This office could be rebuilt from the current faith team in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or be a new function in the Cabinet Office. In any event, the Independent Faith Champion and their team should have a broad, government-wide remit to ensure that government is successfully engaging with faith, people of faith and places of worship. They should be the main support for the Faith Minister and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Recommendation 7: Government should look again at why religious education in schools has become the ‘Cinderella subject’ and should consider methods for improving the teaching of faith literacy and RE, with a view to cultivating a more inclusive society where people of all backgrounds are able to engage in debate about the different faiths and beliefs that shape society. Possible solutions could include the introduction of minimum standards regarding timetabling and resourcing to bring RE alongside other humanities subjects which would then be centrally inspected by Ofsted, the introduction of religious studies GCSE into the English Baccalaureate, or even outreach programmes to university graduates of theology and religious studies to ensure higher levels of faith literacy among RE teachers.

Recommendation 8: Government should ensure that ‘out-of-school settings’ which include faith-based settings operating below the current minimum threshold for registration as independent schools, and those that provide supplementary religious instruction, are properly registered and regulated (creating a new registration scheme and/or mandatory safeguarding reporting regime governed by a centralised oversight body as necessary). They should also ensure appropriate resources are allocated to meet children’s welfare and safeguarding requirements.

Recommendation 9: Government should accelerate proposals to introduce Sharia-compliant student loans on equalities grounds. Faith-sensitive student finance should be made available from the beginning of academic year 2024-25.

Recommendation 10: Government should begin an improvement review of chaplaincy services in prisons and pastoral support for people on remand and on probation. The review should focus on consistency across services, as well as exploring options for modern and effective support, including greater partnership with faith-based organisations that are well equipped to support the prison chaplaincy service.

Recommendation 11: Government should carry out an urgent review of the issue of prisoners allegedly being coercively converted and radicalised in prison, including by their peers, as well as the issue of faith-based gangs. The review should identify any gaps in services that allow these issues to flourish, including the robust vetting of chaplains, mandatory faith literacy and theological training for HM Prison and Probation Service staff, and nuanced data collection on in-prison conversion.

Recommendation 12: Government should explicitly integrate the use of religious or theological reflection as an important part of the rehabilitation of some offenders. This is particularly needed in the Healthy Identity Intervention, where suitable religious and faith-focused tools should be used alongside psychological and social ones to help deradicalise prisoners who have been converted to flawed and extremist religious ideologies. At the very least, government should evaluate the sequencing of the Healthy Identity Intervention and the Theological and Ideological Intervention to establish how they can complement each other in the rehabilitation process.

Recommendation 13: Government and the UK Armed Forces should review recruitment campaigns, future recruitment contracts and HR policies to ensure that more minority faith groups, particularly British-born Muslims, are recruited and retained. By December 2024, the UK Armed Forces should have developed and implemented a strategy that will see the numbers of British-born service personnel from minority religions increase every year until the UK Armed Forces more accurately reflects religious diversity in the UK. Progress should be monitored annually.

Recommendation 14: Government should redouble its efforts to reinforce the distinctions between extremist Islamism and Islam and between Islamist extremists and Muslims. The vast majority of British Muslims do not condone the behaviour or values of Islamist criminals who perpetrate acts of violence, terror and extremism. Government should continue to seek ways of ensuring that British Muslims do not feel unfairly associated with violent Islamism or Islamists who operate with violent or subversive tactics, and ensure that these distinctions are heavily supported in the faith literacy training mentioned in Recommendation 4.

Recommendation 15: Government should continue to crack down on white supremacist and neo-Nazi terrorists and extremists who are using religion or religious imagery to promote their hateful ideology. In addition, government should keep a watching brief on religiously motivated black nationalist groups. Government should also be much more alive to the very small but growing phenomenon of extreme Hindu nationalism and Buddhist nationalism.

Recommendation 16: Government should clearly define and investigate extremist activity and identify where this exists within the Sikh community, taking steps to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of subversive and sectarian Sikh extremist activity. Government should ensure that unacceptable and extremist behaviours are not inadvertently legitimised by government or parliamentary engagement. The reconsideration of previous decisions regarding the activity and legality of certain groups should be included. This will require improving faith literacy across government and the Parliamentary estate, particularly on intra-faith issues, so that government can be more discerning regarding engagement and representation within British Sikh communities.

Recommendation 17: This reviewer welcomes much in the Online Safety Bill. Government should use the provisions within the Bill to exert much greater pressure on YouTube and other social media platforms to remove content uploaded by extremist groups (often intra-faith) which glorifies terrorist activity and is therefore illegal. Similarly, content, including in other languages, which may not be illegal but which incites anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Hindu hatred, hatred towards Sikhs, or any other kind of violent prejudice, racism or misogyny should be treated as harmful. It should be removed on the basis that it incites violence or religious-based sectarianism and is therefore potentially psychologically damaging for children and adults, as well as compromising the safety and security of faith communities in the UK. This requires improved faith literacy across government, including on historical context and events so government can better understand the root causes of tension and hate.

Recommendation 18: Government and its agencies, the Charity Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police should increase their awareness of faith-based financial exploitation so that perpetrators face appropriate sanctions and victims are supported. Government should consider increasing resource allocations to the Charity Commission’s investigations team, so that they are better able to pursue cases of financial exploitation. In addition, government should produce a toolkit for MPs, local councillors and local government officers to spot signs of faith-based financial coercion and exploitation, with clear instructions on reporting to relevant authorities including the police and Charity Commission.

Recommendation 19: Government should fund a programme that supports vulnerable people to leave high-demand groups, high-control movements (often referred to as cults) or religious groups. In addition, this work should help people who face isolation as so-called ‘apostates’ and those facing threats of homelessness, shunning and honour-based abuse. Government should consider partnering with experts on this topic, such as the pioneering academics Dr Linda Dubrow-Marshall and Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall at the University of Salford, and Humanists UK who currently work to support so-called ‘apostates’.

Recommendation 20: Government should amend the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to make it a criminal offence for faith leaders conducting religious and civil weddings to do so without ensuring both participants have willingly entered into the marriage. Given the additional pressure this will place on faith leaders, government should consider providing training on spotting the signs of forced and coercive marriages to support them. This should include guidance for navigating difficult situations where marriage applications need to be refused.

Recommendation 21: Government should redouble its efforts to tackle forced and coercive marriage by publicly adopting the term ‘forced and coercive marriage’ to address the full range of coercive behaviour and pressure in some religious-only or arranged marriages. The Forced Marriage Unit should be led at the political level by one Secretary of State to ensure ownership of this important issue, and it should be adequately resourced within one department to house both the operational delivery and policy work. This would ensure that the policy team can adapt to perpetrators’ evolving tactics while the operation team continues to support victims, as well as prioritising effective join-up across government, particularly with the Department for Education.

Recommendation 22: A review should be set up to investigate fully where existing legislation and policy are failing to prevent the crime of forced and coercive marriage, what further resources are needed, and what more can be done to meet the needs of victims and prevent others falling prey to these crimes. Government should record more quantitative and qualitative data on forced and coercive marriage, including working more closely with social services and local councils. The Forced Marriage Unit specifically should record further data – especially the religious or ethnic backgrounds of both victims and perpetrators – to identify trends and effectively target campaign materials.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Does government ‘do God?’: recommendations of the Westminster Government’s Independent Faith Engagement Adviser" in Law & Religion UK, 26 April 2023,

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