Welfare: the State outsources crisis provision to the Church
Some authorities are transferring large sums to church organisations, including one council, Medway, in Kent, which has transferred its entire £663,000 local welfare assistance budget to Caring Hands, a christian outreach charity which runs a food bank, a clothes bank, an on-site GP service and benefits advice.
The investigation, by Church Times reporter Madeleine Davies, shows that religious groups are begining to playing a key role in the provision of "cashless welfare" services introduced by local authorities in April after the abolition of the social fund and the previously state-run system of crisis loans.
Other significant grants handed out to faith organisations by councils include: £75,000 by Peterborough council to support food banks; £58,000 from Darlington to a local church to provide food parcels and second hand furniture; and £45,000 from Cheshire East to a range of local faith projects.
There was an interesting divergence of reported views within the church on whether it was right to accept state funds in this way, or whether the delivery of cashless welfare was either appropriate or effective.
Caring Hands founder Matthew Guest talked of his charity's reputation for "good-quality business acumen, and excellence in service provision" and commitment to preventing fraud. Projects like his own were expert in dealing with the needs of vulnerable people, and should bid for more state funding:
So much of education, health, welfare reform, started in the Church, and I think the Church has got the mindset and the mandate to be able to deliver exactly what the community needs.Matt Bird of the Cinnamon Network warned:
Churches receiving statutory funding needed to protect their Christian ethos, guard against mission drift because they are 'following the money' and to hold in tension their responsibility to both care for the poor and challenge government policyNiall Cooper, co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty (and co-author of Walking the Breadline, a superb report on food poverty published last week) wondered whether hastily-conceived local welfare crisis provision schemes were adequately equipped to supply what people needed.
Cashless payments, worried Cooper, fitted with:
...the increasingly prevalent narrative that poverty is people's own fault - and that people in poverty cannot be trusted to make the right decisions with their money. This runs alongside the pernicious stereotypes of people in poverty spending all their money on drink and alcohol rather than fuel food and children.To some extent these will be challenges to all charities involved in local welfare provision. But it is easy to see how some will be unnerved by Caring Hand's explicitly-religious approach, stated on its website, to tackling exclusion, hunger and drug addiction:
Caring Hands' response is to bring the love of God to those in need in a practical and positive way that delivers both relief and hope through our Restoration, Reconciliation and Recovery programme.The Love of God may be fine, but often applicants' most pressing need is for cash - impossible to meet in a cashless welfare system. Take Dawn Martin, a 62 year old homeless woman in the Isle of Wight, who as I reported this week, needed a cash advance for a deposit on a room, but was, in a bizarre example of cashless welfare logic, offered a voucher for a tent instead.
In the longer term, there is no guarantee that the already limited (and unringfenced) funding for local welfare provision will continue after 2014-15. Faith charities - and other charities for that matter - may be charging into a high-risk situation where their desire to serve and save is undermined by accelerating demand and rapidly diminishing resources. Prayer may not be enough.
Cooper offers up a wise assessment to Church Times. Foodbanks and church projects, he said:
...cannot be an adequate substitute for a proper safety net, which has been provided by the welfare state for more than the past 60 years. There is a real danger that we are sleepwalking towards the American model of welfare, with wholly inadequate benefit levels and the institutionalised use of food stamps, food handouts and soup kitchens.He concludes:
If this becomes the norm here, it will truly set us back to Dickensian times.
We Care food Bank in Deptford South London Covers all of Lewisham & Greenwich we get no state or Council funding;To donate; Co op Bank We Care food Banks; Sort Code 08 92 99 Account number 65659328