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11 July 2013

Church of England drives social action, says report

Church of England drives social action, says report

Local government and churches should work together to fight deep-seated poverty and social dysfunction, urges new report from think tank ResPublica.

Holistic Mission: Social Action and the Church of England reveals that the Church drives social action, and calls for the government to do more to recognise and harness this power for the good of all in society. At the launch in Lambeth Palace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, echoed this call, mentioning many of the projects churches are carrying out across the UK bringing transformation to their communities.

Government minister for civil society, Nick Hurd MP, also welcomed the report and shadow minister for employment, Stephen Timms MP, praised the work of faith groups and called for a stronger relationship between faith groups and public bodies.

The report notes: "The Church [of England] has the potential, the experience and the capacity to become one of the foundational enabling and mediating institutions that the country so desperately needs."

ResPublica director and one of the authors of the report, Phillip Blond, said at the launch: "We want the Church to step up to the plate and become the type of universal institution that can transform and aid all of our lives."

The report draws on specifically commissioned survey data which reveals the Church of England's role in social action. It found that the Church is hyper-local with 90 per cent of Anglican volunteers participating in social action within two miles of their home and 88 per cent travelling less than that to attend church.

The local reach of churches is also identified in the report. It says: "Churches often have a level of access to individuals and communities that the state does not – an access which is increasingly recognised by agencies such as the police, local councils, and health authorities as they seek to approach social problems in a holistic way. In this report, for example, we show that almost half of the parents and toddlers groups in England are held in church premises, representing a significant level of access to the lives of both individuals and communities."

In June the Evangelical Alliance produced the Faith in the Community report analysing how local authorities interact with faith groups. One of the findings of this report was that unsubstantiated fears about beliefs and proselytism got in the way of potential partnership. This was also reported in Holistic Mission, which said: "Fears of proselytising appear ill-founded, as 88 per cent of respondents to our questionnaire agree that they are comfortable helping people who have different values or religious belief … But faith is the source for people wanting to get involved: 81 per cent agree that they help others because of their faith. And an overwhelming majority say that their voluntary action is vital, as other public and private institutions do not do enough to help other people."

The report recommends that a unit is created in the Cabinet Office to help involve the Church in public service delivery and to explore alternative models for delivery. It recommends to the Church of England that a Social Action Unit is established to coordinate activity across dioceses and between the church and government. The unit would then in turn oversee the creation of diocesan Social Action Teams to work with community groups and local government to tackle local problems and deliver services.