The Party Conference Journal – #Lab15
Some of the FaithAction team have been at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. It has been rewarding to have a fair amount of interest in the work of faith organisations in the UK, with many doing our quiz on the facts of the faith sector, and MPs signing up to our Friendly Places Pledge.
Our catchphrase is ‘Faith is what goes on underneath’, and when we talk about the numbers involved in faith-based social action, most are taken back and surprised. It is interesting to see how people pigeon-hole the work of faith groups; when I asked a question to one MP and former councillor, she talked for a long time about faith festivals, but didn’t mention any of the faith-based social action taking place in her constituency. I took the time afterwards to talk to her about the Faith Covenant, which now covers the Midlands, the North, and a number of London boroughs, reaching people in both urban and rural areas.
However, the real discussion of interest was hosted by the Charities Aid Foundation about the perception of charities by both politicians and the public. There was a report from some recent research by ComRes: generally, MPs had a higher regard of charities than the public. That’s not to say that the public does not have a high regard–it’s more the point of how highly MPs recognise the work of charities in their constituencies, often being the places they refer people to who come to their surgeries. It is the dedication of the voluntary and community sector (VCS) that fills the gaps around public services, whether this is due to because of cuts or a silo mentality.
Ed Cox, of IPPR North, challenged MPs not to use the VCS for their own needs. The Conservatives need to not see the VCS as a way of introducing privatisation, and Labour needs to beware of Instrumentalism, of seeing the VCS as a base for political support.
At FaithAction, we can still see there is some way left to go in order to make sure faith-based social action–and for that matter, public service delivery–is recognised. But faith organisations are well-placed: they have the trust of their communities, they can found all over the country, and they are in places which have previously not been well served.
In the end, as Ed Cox said:
“Faith groups draw from a different source of autonomy.”
More in the series
- Part 2, Labour, by Daniel Singleton
- Part 3, Labour, by Rodie Garland
- Part 4, Conservative, by Felicity Smith