My hon. Friend is quite right, and indeed the Brethren also play a vital role in disaster relief support. The value of these activities to society is vast. They represent a glue that holds together the fabric of our communities, particularly in many needy places. Indeed, I have heard it said that youth work in this country would collapse without the churches’ involvement. Toddlers might miss out on the developmental benefits of playing with others at a vital age, and their mothers—particularly young mums—would miss out on relationship building and support. Cafés provide not only nutritious, wholesome and economical meals in pleasant surroundings, but a place with a listening ear for the vulnerable, the lonely and the low.
Marriage counselling services invest in families and stable homes, which we know bring massive benefits to society, in terms of children’s mental health and educational attainment. When things go wrong, there is a great emotional cost to families and society. In fact, the Marriage Foundation has estimated that the cost of family breakdown is greater than the entire defence budget. That shows the invaluable contribution that strengthening family life can make to our society.
On caring for the elderly, we know what a strain our social services are under, caring for an ageing population and providing them with dignity, when families are often at a distance. It is so often the church that fills the gap when things do not work out as intended. Faith-based organisations and charities often go the extra mile in ensuring that someone is seen, remembered and reassured. They often provide bereavement support, too.
Faith groups and churches are doing vital work on debt counselling, helping individuals to best manage their finances. We know the cost of spiralling debt: it can lead to family breakdown, emotional heartache and misery for many. I commend the work of Christians Against Poverty, which works with the whole person to provide a range of services for those in debt, without any public funding. It was recently named debt advice provider of the year at an industry awards ceremony.
I can confidently say that most of these services are provided without public funding. Where public funding is obtained, the value for money is outstanding. To speak for a moment in monetary terms, a recent report by the Cinnamon Network, the “Cinnamon Faith Action Audit”, estimates that collectively, the Church provides over £3 billion of social support to UK society. It also found that faith groups deliver 220,000 social action projects, serve 48 million beneficiaries, and mobilise 2 million volunteers. The Church may not be perfect, but without her, society would certainly notice a difference.
Research by the Evangelical Alliance found that 81% of evangelical Christians do some form of voluntary work, serving in the wider community with their church at least once a year, and 37% do so at least once a week. At the recent mayoral hustings for churches in London, the Church of England was quoted as having three times as many outlets in the capital as Starbucks. My hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith said in his remarks at the end of the debate:
“The Evangelical Alliance is part of the Big Society, on the front line tackling crime, on the front line tackling homelessness, and so many other of the challenges London is facing.”
That is so true.
I shall now refer to other quotes from both individuals and organisations, including one from the Prime Minister who said:
“I’m an unapologetic supporter of the role of faith in this country…Across the country, we have tens of thousands of fantastic faith-based charities. Every day they’re performing minor miracles in local communities. As Prime Minister, I’ve worked hard to stand up for these charities and give them more power and support. If my party continues in government, it’s our ambition to do even more.”
I was very pleased indeed to hear that. Similarly, several local authorities have spoken positively of the contribution that church groups make to our local communities, many of them speaking of the fact that they are closely embedded and close to the grassroots of their communities. They speak of their continuing involvement in local communities, which is so important.
Today is an election day. Political parties will come and go when it comes to their authorities in our communities, but the Churches will be there enduring—this century, as they did last century and for centuries before. That is why it is so important that we support them in the way that we need to.