by Alex Goldberg and Asim Siddiqui
Some of the UK’s largest faith organisations have been having crisis management meetings discussions this week as they begin to explore the full impact of the public spending review is felt.
Religious communities have historically provided social care and education services and in the last few decades have been doing this increasingly in partnership with the welfare state, working with it on cradle to grave provision.
There is a real sense that the impact of the review will lead to an increase on demand for their care services as unemployment and social need rises whilst diminishing public resources for their work are cut.
Social provision provided by faith communities works in the following way: charities take on public service contracts (in the same way as other private bodies) to deliver individual care plans to those entitled to it and other services outsourced by the state.
In turn, these services and the care facilities that deliver them are massively subsidised through private donations worth millions of pounds, not to mention millions of volunteer hours. This partnership between the state and faith services is lauded by politicians across the political divide.
One former Government Minister jested “You faith people do it better and cheaper. I suspect you think you will get your reward in the life to come”. Perhaps.
The crisis will be massive: one large Jewish organisation was claiming at a conference this week that the public spending review would mean 25% cut in funding and replacing that sum overnight by private donations is a difficult task. The Government is offering a large transition fund for all service providers but this will simply buy time for organisations to make what will amount to painful changes in increasingly difficult economic times.
This is not a crisis unique to Britain. Protests on the streets of France are another response to the faltering global situation and the impact can be felt across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
It is therefore timely that the Buncher Foundation in conjunction with the two largest Jewish and Muslim networks in Europe (JDC and CEDAR) are promoting the first ICCD-JDC International Abrahamic Forum on Community Services at Lambeth Palace this week.
Muslim, Jewish and Christian social care service providers from across the country will take part. The conference has been months in the planning but social service directors from the three faiths from across Europe and the Middle East will be meeting to discuss ways in which the economic crisis is impacting on elderly care and youth at risk services.
Part of the conference aims to bring in microfinance specialist and transfer some of the knowledge learnt from programmes in Bangladesh and India to Paris and London. It will also seek to learn how different communities can work together to build capacity.
The conference comes at a time of reflection and all eyes will be on Lord Wei, the Government Adviser on the Big Society will address participants. As the state shrinks, the traditional care providers will be forced to fill the vacuum created but in an increasingly multi-religious and multi-cultural society the challenge is how we can do this together.
No doubt there will be ideas raised this week around creating joint-training programmes, building capacity across communities, sharing know-how and how to work together in localities. This echoes the thoughts of Maimonides, a 13th century philosopher, who is important to Jews and Muslims alike. He said charity starts in your street, then your city etc.
In otherwords, he was saying that civil society should work locally and it is all our responsibility to provide welfare. He believed also that welfare commitments should be shown to those from other faith communities as it promoted peaceful communities.
Had he wanted to brand this idea into a simple three word title, he might have well summed up this idea as ‘The Big Society’!
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