But Navca says the Department for Communities and Local Government should be wary…
When I’m visiting a different city and taking a taxi, I make it a habit to get the driver’s view on how things are there; to find out what the issues are and what is being done right and what is being done wrong. Recently, I was in Leeds for the FaithAction and Race Equality Foundation event on Health & Housing, and I was treated to some words of wisdom from my taxi driver. In answer to my questions, he started bemoaning the lack of public toilets and how this affected the local economy – an interesting point and unusual point. However, soon he moved on to a cultural revelation. He was talking about the result of cuts and lack of coordinated planning, when he said:
“Of course a generation ago, we were more satisfied. We did not want or expect so much...”
We talked about home ownership and gadgets, the essential commodity of consumerism. I must confess that, under his withering analysis, I felt quite exposed and hastily hid behind my Kindle and laptop whilst wriggling uncomfortably in my new-‘ish’ suit.
Our grasping approach to life seems to be all around us; a visionless never-satisfied outlook.
Archbishop of York Dr Sentamu recently preached, “Ours is really the most self-regarding culture in many centuries. We make choices as individuals, we have rights as individuals. If it works for you, do it. If it no longer works for you, throw it away and go on to the next thing. Never was the human universe so large yet so small. Never was a culture so written in the first person singular. In the words of the late George Harrison, 'I, me, mine'."
Our disregard for the consequence of self-focused action was brought home to me when I received a text from my wife saying she had scraped the car on a car park entrance which she uses on a weekly basis. What had transpired was that those who had arrived before her had parked outside of the prescribed space, resulting in a domino effect with everyone parking awkwardly. Whilst everything looked more or less normal as she drove around the car park, she scraped the car.
What’s the point to this story? It’s just a small example of the lie which says, “If I do what feels good to me and don’t hurt anyone, there is no harm”. The problem is we are not unconnected. One lazy approach to how we ‘park’ our lives affects someone somewhere.
A former head of a NHS trust told me this week the greatest determiner of whether a patient was released or admitted to hospital was not how ill they were, but whether there was someone at home for them.
The extent of our community and corporateness will have a big effect on whether we can ride out this economic storm.
In this guest blog, Kathy Coe, Director of the Pathway Project, shares some of her thoughts on the process of tendering for funding.
I sit waiting for a belated result in a tendering cycle which has consumed my organisation for the last six months. My head, which used to be buzzing with ideas, focus and motivation, is now drained of all positivity, and I find it difficult to raise sufficent enthusiasm to do more than the most mundane of tasks. In fact, much of the work piled high on my desk is impossible to progress without the long awaited result.
A Chinese proverb says this: 'A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.'
I contemplate Job, and the losses he suffered without losing faith. I think about the pearl and how it is created in the oyster because of its power to irritate. I know that the Bible tells us that patience is born through trials. But I have to say that I now feel like shouting 'Enough!'.
Competition, at some levels, is healthy, and ensures that we continually work to offer the best service / product that we can produce / deliver, so that we maintain our share of the market. However, with services that are people-focused, do we not want to be the best we can for their sake? Why would money motivate us in this sector? Over the last six months, I have seen rivalry, bitterness, lack of co-operation, bullying, and some really deplorable behaviour. Competition does not always bring out the best in people.
I want to publicly commend my team because they have been an inspiration, a source of energy and a shining beacon of hope in an otherwise quite dim world. Their own personal worries and concerns have not impacted on their ability to provide hope to the victims of domestic and sexual abuse that we work to support. I feel a great sense of pride in them. I think that sometimes, when we work with vulnerable people, it is easy to lose sight of our own needs, and I would like my team to be relieved of some of the stress that has been part of our lives for all this time.
I hope and pray that the result, when it arrives, will be a good one. We deserve to carry on delivering our services, and our service users deserve the very high quality support and the really good outcomes that we deliver. In the meantime, I hope that my staff find time to have some moments in the busy days ahead to reflect on their own needs and to care for themselves at this very tense and stressful time. Your prayers for us would be greatly appreciated.
As somewhat of an idealist, I do tend to find that life can be disappointing, that people don’t turn out as noble or selfless as I expect. This is hardly surprising when I consider my own thoughts and actions, which certainly do not seem to stem from idealistic roots.
I watched the documentary Britain’s Hidden Hungry, which looks at food poverty in Coventry and the work of food banks. There are some great characters in the programme, some of whom I wanted to cheer, yet there were others I wanted to boo, and a number who I cringed at. This programme showed a number of different stories and attitudes, and as I talk to colleagues and friends, I hear more stories; some about noble characters, some about rogue. It raises the question about the correct levers to pull to help people in need whilst avoiding the creation of a ‘benefits culture’.
With the ongoing depressing news about the state of the UK and global economy — the harsh changes to benefits and cuts hitting the voluntary sector particular hard — the reality of poverty is never far from our TV screens. Many of us who work in the voluntary sector face this on a daily basis, but there also lies a new experience of how much the issue of poverty pervades our friends and families. Two families I know have been made homeless in the past month. People in similar jobs to mine, where they are reasonably well off, have come to the end of their contract and received their redundancy pay, but not long after, they have had to receive food parcels from food banks.
The Victorian fear of debt and poverty is upon us again. Dickens’ novels have a growing poignancy. For those of us in a vibrant faith community, there is some respite in the knowledge that we have access to a larger network of support than many others, but this does not completely dispel the sense of unease we feel. When David Lloyd George MP and Winston Churchill MP introduced the National Insurance Act of 1911, it went some way to creating a safety net for old age and unemployment. Some historians would argue that this safety net released capital into the economy, as people felt more able to spend where they would have previously ‘saved for a rainy day’. In other words, this National Insurance went towards creating ‘confidence’. It is the creation of confidence, or at least assurance, which is needed in the world economy.
(Here’s a wild thought: many people in China save up to 40% of their income should they need to pay for healthcare. If the Chinese government were to introduce some level of state-funded healthcare, 1.3bn Chinese would suddenly have an increase in spending power that could help bolster the global economy.)
So how do you and your organisation view those who are in receipt of significant state benefits? (That is, not the majority who receive universal benefits such as Child Benefit and Winter Fuel Payments) I have been taken aback by number of opinions from relatively liberal friend and colleagues, whose first-hand experience has given them some rather cynical views of claimants. One person told me of a family member who is a very talented craftsman, but his attitude is that is the government would pay him to not work, why should he bother working? He gets round the system at the moment by applying for board-level corporate roles, of which he has no experience or qualifications, so that he can still tell the Jobcentre that he has applied for work. Another story I heard was of a client whose specification was so narrow in terms of role and travel time, there were was very little opportunity.
So where is the truth? The anecdotal evidence which we hear every day and the evidence from TV documentaries cannot be denied. But what is the truth about welfare, benefit culture and poverty?
Is there hard-core benefit claimants who are ‘working the system?’, or are they just being played by the system? Are people barely surviving their fall arrested by the safety net, or are they just resting on the net? These questions are being addressed not explicitly but sub-consciously by faith and community organisations throughout the U.K., as the answer to these questions dictates how we approach our work in the community and the type of project we will participate in.
We are very keen to hear your thoughts to these questions and to hear about the solutions and responses you have discovered. Please email us at email@example.com
So there I was, at home, having a quick bite to eat before a colleague and I headed into town for a contract meeting. There was a knock at the door and in burst Harriet!
Harriet is in her late 20s and has not long had her first child. She was due for lunch with my wife, and as she bounded into the kitchen, I realised what she was carrying was not a small child, but a puppy. The baby was outside in a buggy, so how she had been able to carry the dog and wheel the buggy at the same time I don’t know. The puppy was put into my garden, at which point it became very excited at our guinea pig hutch, and I had to spring into action to find a temporary lead to tie the dog up with. In the midst of this excitement, Harriet told me the story of how she had rescued this puppy as it ran back and forth lost on a main road near our local park. All the other passers-by watched as this distressed dog ran about, with not a one willing to get involved… other than our Harriet.
What a pain! There was a puppy in my garden (which, of course, took this opportunity to relieve itself), I needed to catch a train, but most important of all, my daughter was due home from infant school in less than 2 hours! She adores dogs and would assume that Christmas had come early. However, as I left the house, having carefully secured the dog, I was not focused on the issue of the dog, but on Harriet! What a wonderful person. She was willing to get involved and attempt to fix a problem when no one else was - even if it did mean a small “deposit” on my lawn. Harriet is a health care professional and I know that if anyone is under her care, she will push through, not serving the system, but the person.
We need Harriets, people willing to go above and beyond. The new Secretary of State of Health Jeremy Hunt recognises this. One of his four priorities is to raise the standard of care. We recognised that we can have good treatment in the UK, but what seems to be lacking is the best care. Now, this cannot be achieved by systems and monitoring etc. Care comes from the person. You cannot show good care simply by going through the motions. So let’s hope there are many more Harriets in health and social care.
British institutions have received quite a bit of negative press recently. The institutions we look to uphold democracy and our way of life have been found wanting. Yet, our institutions are surely only a reflection of the nation as a whole, just as public figures who talk of integrity are jinxed in the same way many of us are should we mention the word ‘barbeque’ in the British summer, when what was moments ago bright and sunny will soon be overcast and ruined by a storm.
The political classes were found wanting by MP’s expenses. The press were shown up by phone hacking. The BBC were attacked due to cover-ups and mismanagement. And now, even the Anglican Church is somewhat in disarray over women bishops.
In fact, the trouble set in long before these recent issues. The dawn of New Labour was tarnished by a failed search for WMDs. We know the press write about what we want to read, and the BBC is just one of many organisations that struggles with unpalatable truths.
FaithAction is currently the secretariat of the APPG on Faith & Society, which is chaired by Stephen Timms MP. We have been party to a whole host of meetings where faith-based organisations have given evidence of their work in the UK. It has been fascinating to find out how what these organisations do and what barriers they face because of faith. However, maybe the important question to ask is about how faith makes you who, and how, you are.
After the Enron scandal in the USA, there was a marked increase in businesses looking to employ managers from Christian and Mormon backgrounds, as there was a recognition that corporate integrity had to stem from personal values. I believe that with an active faith, just by being who they are, they can make a significant contribution to organisations and institutions. There needs to be room given to the benefits of faith, without suggesting it holds a monopoly on righteousness.
Institutions have to have values at their very foundations. These values will come not only from those within the institutions, but will also be affected by wider society. Faith promises a service of values, and until we allow faith a proper place in the corporate and public space, we will continue to see a decline in institutions, and of society itself.
Joseph de Maistre, a political philosopher, once said that we get the government we deserve. However, I would add that, as they are made and upheld by us:
We get the institutions we deserve.
Having moved from place to place over the years, it is good sometimes to return to a town I once called home. I recently had the pleasure of walking through the doors of the parish church in which I was married, at which our children were baptised and which supported me as I explored my vocation to ordained ministry. It happened to be a very significant weekend for the parish. They were celebrating 20 years of their outreach ministry - a drop-in centre that reaches out to those whose lives are severely blighted by alcohol and substance abuse.
As I heard stories of how people had emerged from their addictions and had begun to get to grips with the underlying problems in their past, I was touched by the significance of this ministry. My friends from many years back had committed themselves and their church building to the most vulnerable members of society. As a result they witnessed the sort of healing amongst individuals who normally fall furthest through the net.
In particular, I was pleased to see that they were working with health authorities to address the physical symptoms of destructive lifestyles. Nurses from the local primary care trust are in church 4 days a week to address the health needs of clients, even as centre workers and volunteers are promoting growth in confidence and hope.
I have seen this sort of ministry also in the United States and in Canada. I am sure it goes on in many other parts of the Anglican Church and in other faiths. Parish churches are responding to needs and demands that are not easily addressed in formal health care settings. The level of trust, care and long term commitment creates a context where those with the deepest problems may discover a purpose for their lives. As those who carry a message of hope for the future, church members are able to point those in need towards a life with meaning.
I must admit to getting a bit bored recently. Bored, that is, with last week’s focus on the topless picture of the Duchess of Cambridge and this week’s rolling story of MP Andrew Mitchell’s mouthing off at the police. Are we not in danger of focusing too much attention and expense (there are cries for inquiries left right and centre) on these things? I’m not saying they are trivial issues. It’s easy to sympathise with the Royal Family and to be concerned by the lack of respect attributed to the police. But, proportionately, this occupies too many column inches and too much TV reporting.
Parliament is in recess, so in theory there is less news to pursue. However, would this not be a great opportunity to focus on some good news stories? Our heads are turned by the media, who bear a large role in deciding what we see and hear. I remember that in the early 90’s much attention was being paid to the Maastricht Treaty, what constituted a sausage and how straight a cucumber should be, whilst very little was said about the horrific civil war in Sierra Leone. It turns out that a relatively brief involvement of British forces, in a form of modern-day ‘gun-boat diplomacy’, made a significant and swift change to the situation when Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy took hold.
So while we are taken up with what a minister did or didn’t say to the police, what else are we missing? What is going on in Sudan or Zimbabwe, for example? How about the places where there is no oil or natural resources - the places where people cannot get attention?
This is where Faith plays such a key role; in so many areas, both in the UK and elsewhere, people of faith are the first in and the last out!
RELIGION PRESERVES MENTAL HEALTH AND GIVES INNER STRENGTH AND DIGNITY
My father is 87 years old. Every morning he prays and meditates for three hours, without fail. He is disabled, can barely walk, but this is his ritual. It gives him peace, meaning and purpose, and I have noticed that his mind is very sharp all day, and he reads and reflects all the time.
This is not an isolated story. I know many Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Jains for whom faith is a core part of their life, and in retirement gives them strength, self-confidence and mental peace in spite of the most difficult of circumstances. When every day people head to work, I see many elderly people heading to their local temples, gurudwaras or mosques to get a sense of meaning and community and to pray and worship. This is a story we rarely read about in the newspapers or the media – it is a fact which saves the government a huge amount of money (millions of pounds), through savings in mental health and physical health bills, building harmonious families and sustaining communities. And most faith organisations are entirely self-funded by the communities and do not get a penny from the government. They are not scroungers or benefit cheats, but instead people and groups who add significantly to our health and well-being as a nation. Unfortunately, this story is rarely appreciated, understood or celebrated.
In 2010, I embarked on an Epic Masala Tour of Britain, to showcase the story of the Indian community in Britain and how it contributes to the country through its faith, ethics, food, creativity, culture and education. I filmed as I travelled to catalogue the personal stories of individuals and communities, and created a special You Tube channel for this. You can read about the tour here: http://www.diverseethics.com/masala/about-masala/mblog-6
And watch any of the 80 films on the You Tube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/MasalaTour
Through these stories, you will discover how faith influences and enriches society often in very subtle ways. Another great aspect of faith is festivals. And I have seen mental health being hugely boosted for many people during these experiences. In fact, festivals are like a mental health holiday, and recommended for everyone at least a few times in the year. I write just after the V music festival, and this also attracted thousands of people, but each had to purchase an expensive ticket, and the music brought everyone together. However, faith festivals go deeper and reach wider than this as they are bound by discipline, free to all and encourage people to seek purity and divinity, and avoid drink and drugs.
What modern scientists and journalists do not understand is the huge variety and depth of faith, and its long history, tradition and creative heritage. The UK government must publicly recognise the huge contribution of faith communities and educate policy makers and health practitioners to work with these communities to provide support and encouragement. Economists and social scientists need to measure the economic impact of faith communities and the huge benefits they generate for health and wellbeing.
I’m back in London after being away for much of the summer, one way or another. I ventured into town and, as I have to pass through Stratford, I enviably get immersed in Olympic traffic; conspicuous pink and maroon Olympic shirts everywhere.
There is still a bit of a buzz; directions to give, excited children to observe, and the sun is out; not the usual drudgery of commuting. (As I tend to wear a business suit, I often get asked for information, which is the same hazard as going to a local supermarket: everyone assumes you’re the manager!)
Just the other day, I aided a couple hopelessly overloaded with children and coffee cups as they cleaned a spillage on the train. (Come to think of it, when do people clean up on a train normally?). I offered help to someone unwell in the street, and dispensed tips on taking children to the Olympic park to a family as we shared a carriage. I'm not saying I’m special; I just think that I too am a Games Maker! (I quite fancy the outfit as well!)
Of course, many of us are wont to do these things in the normal run of life, but the Olympics seems to give us more permission. David Cameron could smugly conclude that Big Society is alive and well, if somewhat undercover. These spontaneous acts of kindness are, I think, a good measure of a better society. In fact, this observation forms a chapter in our booklet on faith and Big Society, ‘How to eat an elephant’.
So, maybe the legacy of the 2012 Games will be that the Tube travel is more humane?
Kathy Coe, Director
Watching a clip from the Oprah interview with Rihanna this morning I am reminded just how complex, frightening and confusing a social issue we are faced with when dealing with domestic abuse. It is a problem that comes with a huge cost, not just to the victim, but also to society as a whole. Obviously there is an enormous financial cost, with a great deal of time required from professionals across health and social care services, as well as domestic abuse providers, but the cost in terms of human suffering is incalculable. And, of course, at its worst it can lead to fatalities.
Pathway Project has been working in this field for 21 years. We have seen strategies introduced, interventions trialled and laws changed. Models of working have gained or lost popularity, and have been abandoned for the next new idea. We have made a great deal of progress and services are now more robust than ever before. What we have not seen in all those years, however, is a change to the number of women being killed each year by a current or former partner. This figure has remained consistent at 2 a week throughout the whole of that time. Are we failing to address the issue? Or is the reality that domestic abuse is increasing and we are reducing what is a rising number of potential homicides?