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Holistic Mission: Social action and the Church of England

Britain needs both new and renewed institutions.

Institutions are crucial to brokering the future of a country. Without both enabling and mediating institutions that leverage people into education, skills and shared prosperity, a nation cannot progress. We are now in the UK at a point of institutional miscarriage. Both state and market have failed us. The NHS has been implicated in massive scandals of appalling care and resultant coverups. Our banking system has been the province of vested and rent-seeking self-interest. In the UK, social mobility is stagnating and inequalities are both rising and embedding; all of this despite massive expenditure by the state and vast amounts of contracting out to the private sector. We need to recognise that doing more of the same will only deliver more of the same. We need to create, recover and restore new transformative institutions that can genuinely make a difference to people and their communities.

Renewing public services: holistic, personal and local.

One reason that our public services are failing is that they have been constructed without true regard to the individual needs of people. Our services have centralised, standardised and delivered their outreach through silos and along departmental lines. As a result, people’s true needs are never met. Since all human beings differ in what they need, delivering through a one-size-fits-all mentality ensures that those who most need help do not receive it. Instead services must be bespoke and personal, they must be holistic and tailored to people’s specific needs. They must be delivered in a local manner that reaches and helps difficult groups and also deals with all others according to their true needs.

The Church can help to meet this needand fill this gap.

Perhaps surprisingly to many, we argue the Church has the potential, the experience and the capacity to become one of the foundational enabling and mediating institutions that the country so desperately needs. We do not deny the right and ability of other organisations to offer the holistic, personal and local social care and action that we require. Indeed we ask for other organisations to be created or restored to their more radical foundation. In respect of the latter, ResPublica has already called for housing associations to fulfil their more transformative and visionary foundation and become the type of enabling organisation that we are calling for. However, we believe that among all available organisations the Church is uniquely positioned to create a radical new offer on the basis of an ancient institution that can provide universal access and standards combined with local variation and innovation.

The Church has the people.

In the research commissioned for this report, we have found striking evidence that the Church has enormous experience and even greater potential. Levels of social action are considerably higher amongst Church attendees than the general population. 79% of Church congregations engage in some formal voluntary action compared to just 40% of the general population, whereas 90% are involved in informal voluntary activity as opposed to 54% of the general population. Two thirds of those doing voluntary action state that it is through the Church, one fifth of those doing such work support those with disabilities.

The Church has the experience.

As this report amply demonstrates, the Church has a wealth of in-depth and varied experience across most fields and in many areas. From helping women recover from prostitution, to mental health, to work experience and training to homelessness and drug addiction and prisoner rehabilitation, the Church is already doing it all and in many cases it is delivering a greater level of care than the state and the market were ever able to. Moreover, the Church is characterised by a high level of education and managerial ability of its attendees, the experience of its staff and the enormous range of assets it currently brokers for the good of all. Thus, the ability and potential of the Church is beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Church has the intention and the will.

Fears of proselytising appear ill-founded, as 88% of respondents to our questionnaire agree that they are comfortable helping people who have different values or religious beliefs with 65% strongly agreeing with this. Faith is clearly not for Church of England congregations a motivation for partisanship and sectarianism. But faith is the source for people wanting to get involved: 81% agree that they help others because of their faith. And an overwhelming majority say that their voluntary action is vital, as other public and private institutions do not do enough to help other people.

The Church has to make itself fit for purpose.

If the Church is to fulfil its purpose and its potential, it has to substantially upgrade its internal and external structures. It has to adapt to the governance demands for accountability and standards by the state whilst at the same time allowing its localities to innovate and create. It needs to create co-ordinated structures to realign its provision from excellence in some places to entirely absent in others. It should develop an ‘at scale’ corporate offer that can leverage all the distinction and variation of its current provision into a more truly universal service which can change the lives and outcomes of the people and localities it serves. Crucially, over 80% of respondents said that organisations involved in social action need more support and guidance. This is itself a marker that much, much more needs to be done.

The Government has to create the opening, the incentive and the encouragement.

The Government has to accept that the current model is broken. Neither nationalisation or privatisation can save the poor from their fate and secure the middle classes in the 21st century. We need government to build on its reform agenda and think meaningfully about institutional innovation. We need the government to encourage the Church to partner with it in a way that is consistent with the Church’s vision and beliefs to help create an institution that can transform our lives and our communities through holistic and personal forms of service delivery that care for the whole human person. Government needs to help the Church become procurement and delivery ready, and the Church needs to help the government by telling them what people really and genuinely need.