As the debate on church and welfare continue, the Prime Minister and other senior government figures today host a reception with the winners of the 2008 Faithworks Awards at No 10 Downing Street.
The winners, who all won monetary grants earlier this year to help develop their community projects, will be joined by other representatives of the 20,000-strong Faithworks Movement.
Gordon Brown is due to thank them for their work. He will be joined by Hazel Blears, the Secretary for State for Communities and Local Government, and Stephen Timms, Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform.
The event will also mark the launch of a Labour Party consultation with faith groups, due to report in 2009. Malcolm Duncan, the leader of the Faithworks Movement, is a member of the faiths’ taskforce that will be carrying out this work.
“It is a huge encouragement that the government is celebrating the work of people who are motivated into practical action by their faith, and listening to their experiences and expertise from the ‘front line’,” said Duncan.”
When Steve Chalke founded Faithworks in 2001, Gordon Brown was a strong supporter of the Movement and today is proof that the Prime Minister still has a high regard for faith activists and the work they do.
“Although there are only a few here today, we are celebrating the thousands of activists across the country who make a choice every day to help individuals on the edge of society and serve their local communities," he declared.
“The government has made huge steps in celebrating the work of faith communities – but there is still more to do. That is why we are also committed to working with politicians of all parties. We call on people of all political persuasions to continue recognising the potential that the local church holds for bringing positive change. I also want to encourage different faith groups to continue working together to put even more resources, time and effort into building a better world. We can work together, whilst remaining distinctive.”
Projects that will be represented at the reception include:
* The Sunflower Garden (Edinburgh), a pioneering service which works with children affected by drug use in their families.
* The Big Buzz (Everton) which provides fun and educational activities for children and their families in the third most deprived ward in the country.
* Colchester Nightstop, a network which provides temporary accommodation in hosts’ homes for young people who have become homeless.
* Hull Churches Home from Hospital Service, a comprehensive befriending scheme for people leaving hospital, helping them move to independence through convalescence.
Faithworks has pioneered a charter for Christian involvement in public service provision. This sets out standards for good practice. Unlike many religious groups, Faithworks welcomed the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) in 2007, which ensure fair treatment and full access for lesbian and gay people.
But religious groups can still give preference to those of their own creed in employment under a law passed in 2003. This has caused great concern among equality activists and is seen as a license to discriminate by those sceptical towards 'faith-based welfare'.
The new report commissioned by the Church of England, Moral, But No Compass is generally favourable towards an extension of church involvement in formal elements of the social sector.
But a report entitled Quality and Equalities published last year by the British Humanist Association with backing from trade union and voluntary sector representatives raised massive concerns about the way many faith groups operate and warned government against 'contracting out' huge chunks of welfare to them.