January 01, 2014
The Global Economic Crisis in 2008 resulted in higher unemployment and inflation, coupled with wage freezes or cuts, these factors contributed to an increase in poverty and personal debt in Brighton and Hove. Additionally rising life expectancy is creating greater need for social care as our elderly population grows. The City Council is therefore under pressure to deliver social welfare services such as debt advice, social housing and adult social care to more people, but with lower budgets to due to substantial reductions to the central government grant to local authorities. This has created a “perfect storm” of a council under pressure to increase social welfare output whilst having fewer resources to do so.
One of the ways the Council has responded to this crisis, is to create partnerships between third and private sector organisations that deliver social welfare services and itself. By doing so, these organisations are able to both consolidate their back office functions and create a more integrated service that benefits service users. By consolidating services, money can be saved, which can offset the lower grants they may receive from the council. The integrated service will benefit service users by having a common service entry point, such as a website for example, where service users can access all the functions of the partnership without having to access dozens of service entry points.
A good example of where this has recently happened is the Brighton and Hove Advice Partnership where dozens of organisations that deliver advice to Brighton and Hove residents have formed a partnership under the leadership of Brighton and Hove Citizens Advice Bureau and with money from Brighton and Hove Council. They have developed a website that brings together a list of advice sector organisations, their opening times and locations so that service users can gain an overview of available services and choose the one the best suits them without having to conduct a search for each one. They also provide a consolidated training and support site that helps advisers access training events and expert advice.
The Council is keen to develop further partnerships across the social welfare sector so service user needs are met, and has expressed a keen desire to work with faith groups to do this. Unfortunately there is no central database or list of social welfare services being delivered by faith groups. Community Works, a third sector support organisation for Brighton and Hove, has a list of secular and some faith led social welfare services, but this list only covers a small percentage of faith led services. No one has a good idea of exactly what is being delivered and by whom when it comes to faith sector social welfare services.
Between 2012 and 2013 three significant reports were published concerning local authorities working with local faith groups. These are:
- Faith and belief in partnership – Effective collaboration with local government.” A report sponsored by the Local Government Association and authored by Northumbria University.
- Faithful Providers.” A report by the think-tank Demos that investigates 20 faith-motivated organisations across a variety of policy areas.
- Faith in the Community – Strengthening ties between faith groups and local authorities.” A report sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance and published by the All Party Group of Christians in Parliament.
All three reports conclude that both faith groups and local authorities will provide more efficient and effective social welfare services if they work together. Furthermore, they all recommend that an audit is conducted in the first place to identify current provision, so that partnerships can be facilitated between faith groups and the Council.
Last summer, the Rev Martin Poole (Vicar of St Luke’s Church) and Lev Eakins (a volunteer at St Luke’s Advice Service – a debt advice service attached to St Luke’s Church) spent time discussing the Council and Church’s response to the economic crisis. After reading the three reports mentioned above, Lev proposed that he conduct an audit of social welfare services being delivered by faith groups. Rev Poole had helped organise a meeting between the Council and around 60 faith group leaders in the city to discuss a way forward and invited Lev to outline his audit proposal, which he did to a positive reaction.
There are around 144 faith groups listed in the Brighton Interfaith Contact Group directory and the task of auditing each of these is considerable. Furthermore the cost to run an online interactive database containing the audit data needs to be met. No existing charity was suitable to conduct this work, so Lev and Rev Poole decided to start their own, with the trustees drawn from those faith groups delivering the most significant social welfare services in the city. This would not only provide a vehicle to raise, receive and spend funding, but it would also bring together the leaders of faith groups already delivering social welfare projects in the city.
Lev used the report generated by the Council and faith group leaders meeting to visit faith groups that delivered the most significant social welfare services and outline his proposal in more detail. He recruited trustees and conducted audits as he went, recruiting further associate trustees of individuals who are involved in the local faith sector. In February 2014 a new interfaith charity ‘Brighton and Hove Faith in Action’ was constituted, objectives selected and officers elected. Rev Poole is the Chair and Lev Eakins is the Secretary.
The BHFA continues to recruit members and conduct audits and has embarked upon a round of fundraising. There is much work to do and we’re still in early days, but the reaction to our project has been very positive and we looking forward to realising our goals and creating the necessary database to facilitate partnerships between faith groups and the council within the city. Once we have completed the audit we hope to produce several reports that examine the patterns of service provision within the city, and hope that these reports will stimulate interest in partnership work.