Government policies on faith communities divisive, claims NCVO
Policies that treat faith-based organisations as separate may be divisive according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the main umbrella body for charities in England.
The claim comes as NCVO publishes a new report, ‘Faith and Voluntary Action’. NCVO states that whilst faith-based organisations (such as religious congregations, local community groups and charities) are distinctive, by treating them as separate from secular charities or community groups, there is a danger that policy makers will alienate civil society. In particular, NCVO is concerned that both secular and faith-based organisations feel, at times, discriminated against when applying for Government funding and excluded from policy discussions.
With ongoing tensions regarding the role of faith-based organisations in delivering public services, such as the high profile debate over adoption services, NCVO is worried that the current approach has affected the potential for collaboration between faith and secular organisations.
Instead, NCVO is arguing that the relationship between government and faith-based organisations should be based on the same principles as the relationship between government and other civil society organisations, including respect for independence.
Karl Wilding, Head of Research at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), said:
The similarities between faith-based and secular organisations are striking. All are distinctive to some extent. However, both traditions and those working with them appear to be stressing separate approaches. At a time when civil society organisations are facing pressures in terms of identity and role, greater levels of collaboration should be a source of strength. Faith-based and secular organisations should build on their shared distinctiveness and should not lapse into practices and identities of separateness and, ultimately, isolation.
The report makes a series of other recommendations for policy makers, faith-based organisations and the voluntary and community sector:
- Both faith-based and secular organisations remain well placed to deliver public services. However, their work with clearly defined communities may not always be in the interests of the broader community. If faith-based organisations are to play a greater role in public service delivery then a statutory framework that emphasises the universality of service delivery needs to be upheld.
- There are numerous examples of collaboration between faith-based and secular organisations, however this collaboration needs further impetus.
- Many faith-based and secular organisations provide community buildings and spaces. A more joined-up approach to multi-purpose buildings that is adequately supported is required.
- Policy makers need to be more consistent when referring to faith communities. It is unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst, to use faith communities as a synonym for ‘Muslim’ or ‘BME’ communities.
- Policy makers should recognise that the use of the term “faith-based organisations” disguises significant variation in resources, roles, attitudes and practices both within and between faith communities.
- A clear case, based on evidence, should be developed regarding the nature of distinctiveness.
The report aims to address some of the questions and misunderstandings surrounding faith-based organisations, addresses some of the more commonly used concepts associated with their work and reviews current evidence regarding their scope, coverage and activities. It aims to enable wider civil society to more effectively engage with faith communities.
It also includes an overview of the Labour Government’s policies and initiatives concerning faith-based organisations as well as highlighting the diversity of views regarding the involvement of faith-based organisations across the public realm. It includes five essays from external contributors on “Faith-based organisations within civil society”, “Faith as a motivation for voluntary action”, “Faith, social capital and social cohesion”, “Local governance, representation and faith-based organisations” and “Faith-based organisations as service providers”.
The report is being published in parallel with “Faith in the community: the contribution of faith-based organisations to rural voluntary action” which looks at the challenges and opportunities for faith-based and secular organisations in rural areas.
The report is being launched on Wednesday 13 June at 9am for 9.30am at One Birdcage Walk, Westminster, SW1H 9JJ. Speakers include John Battle MP, the Prime Minister’s envoy on inter-faith matters.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the umbrella body for the voluntary sector in England, with sister councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. NCVO has a growing membership of over 5,000 voluntary organisations, ranging from large national bodies to community groups, volunteer bureaux, and development agencies working at a local level.