The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams today (Friday) issued a warning to Government over the impact of cuts and suggested that the flagship idea of the 'Big Society' currently being promoted by Government, had not been properly thought through.
In particular, he singled out the provision of mental health services in the countryside, saying they should not be cut under the current Government Comprehensive Spending Review. He said this was his greatest concern when looking at the possible shrinkage of services in the rural communities.
Williams described mental health issues in rural areas as “a huge problem”, where the isolation and hidden deprivation are extremely significant. Describing the burden placed on voluntary support services as already extreme, he said this provision must remain.
The comments came at a conference: Faith and the Future of the Countryside – 2010 which is exploring the sustainability of rural communities and their churches and mark 20 years since the publication of Faith in the Countryside, the seminal report of the Archbishop’s Commission on Rural Areas, chaired by Lord Prior.
Four conference themes of rural communities, economy, environment and rural church reflect the breadth of issues covered in the original report.
At the same conference, the Bishop of St Albans warned that nearly half a million rural households may be left without housing in the next quarter of a century.
The Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith told leading thinkers on rural economies, planning, policy and mission in rural communities that the 50 per cent cut in capital investment for affordable homes, announced in the comprehensive spending review, also risks a reversal in the hard-won five year fall in homelessness.
In his address, Dr Williams also spoke of the "opportunity and challenge" for the Church to get across to those driving the Big Society what is already happening in the countryside through the rural church and community groups.
“Conversations earlier this week in Westminster suggested that a number of people driving the Big Society have not really thought through what the implication might be, certainly for the rural setting,” he said.
He added that it was an opportunity and challenge in getting across to these people what is happening and the specific needs, adding that a certain amount of what gets talked about is already going on. It was about capacity building, not exultation, he added.
The Church's General Synod will be debating the Big Society and the Church on 23 November.