The first female rabbi to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has profiled the high standards that should be expected of faith-backed social care providers.
Baroness Neuberger, a high profile social reformer and member of the House of Lords, praised the Church of Scotland for its "truly amazing" care to older people in an address to the Kirk's national decision-making body this morning (27 May 2011).
Neuberger, a guest of the Lord High Commissioner to the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, hailed the official Care Commission gradings of homes run by the Kirk's social care arm, CrossReach.
Like Jewish Care, of which she is a former trustee, CrossReach has been "rated very highly", she said.
Ninety-four per cent of CrossReach's homes received a grade four, of good care, whilst 51 per cent were marked excellent in the last assessment exercise.
Baroness Neuberger compared these statistics to some of the "appalling care" which the elderly receive in hospitals and suggested that many faith-run services had a good track record of treating the vulnerable with compassion, dignity and respect - and therefore had important standards to maintain in serving the wider public.
She declared: "Religious services tend to offer very good care services, in my experience among the best in the UK and indeed worldwide. Still, we Jews could learn so much from the Church of Scotland about how you care for the elderly and the dying."
She also highlighted the contribution religious bodies can make to end-of-life provision and recognising the diverse (and not always formally 'religious') spiritual needs death and dying, as well as 'ethical wills'.
Speaking to Ekklesia afterwards, Rabbi Neuberger said that, although she had not directly addressed equality issues in her speech, they remain a keen concern for her.
The Baroness has a strong track record of speaking out against discrimination in all its forms, and is concerned that all bodies involved in social provision, whether religious or non-religious in foundation and orientation, should maintain the highest standards, and treat those in their care fairly, equally and with dignity - whoever they are.
'Faith-based care' has become a controversial issue in public debate recently, both because of concerns that private or voluntary bodies may be being used to excuse government its responsibilities in a climate of cuts and austerity, and also because of equalities concerns.
Some faith bodies receiving and deploying public funds for public benefit have sought exemptions from some equalities requirements, particularly on grounds of sexual orientation, which has been a matter of strong moral dispute within the churches.
The Kirk's CrossReach care arm acts within the law on equality concerns, but focuses its provision on those with a connection to the Church.
Earlier this week the CrossReach reported to the General Assembly a budget saving of 40 per cent, despite reduced funding and rising costs.
Finance and sustainability will continue to be tough issues. A balanced budget in 2011 will require further savings of almost £1.2 million, but both convener the Rev Syd Graham and chief executive Peter Bailey say they believe this can be achieved.
Mr Graham said: “This is a challenging and ambitious target in the current financial climate but will build on the significant progress in the financial performance of 2010."
“Significantly, we will no longer be reliant on the sale of assets to achieve a balanced budget as has been the case over a number of years. Whilst it might be seen that a heavy emphasis is being placed on the financial management of the organisation, it is only as we become good stewards of the resources available to us that we can do more to achieve our calling as Christians to live out the Gospel in the joyful care of the poorest and most marginalised,” he added.
Last year CrossReach announced a “fit for purpose” agenda in order to make its future sustainable. But this involved the closure of some of services and the loss of staff - leading to concern and criticism from some quarters.
The Assembly report acknowledged the continued hard-work of all CrossReach employees.
Just one per cent of CrossReach’s funding comes directly from the Church of Scotland’s Ministries and Mission Fund, which will rise to 1.28 per cent in 2011, and the rest comes largely from service users, local authorities, health boards and legacies.
CrossReach cares for thousands of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens, providing over 70 services ranging from care homes for the elderly, post-natal depression counselling and residential schools.
More on CrossReach: http://www.crossreach.org.uk/