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Monday, March 27, 2017
Statement in response to Charity Commission comments on Von Hugel report
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¬†On 9 June the Von Hugel Institute published a ground- breaking study, commissioned by the Church of England, focusing on the quality of public services and how the Church might enhance its already huge civic contribution. Entitled: Moral, But No Compass, part of the report concentrates on 'problems' of statistics with regard to the size of the Christian charitable contribution to the nation, not least at the Charity Commission. On 14 June the Chair of the Charity Commission wrote to the Times defending their work and arguing that the key need was for Church charities to face up to their responsibilities for 'public benefit"'under the new Charity Act STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO DAME SUZI LEATHER, CHAIR OF THE CHARITY COMMISSION We admire the work of the Charity Commission, but judge that it protests too strongly in saying that our report, Moral, But No Compass, misstates the Commission's policy on the quantification and nature of Christian charity (Times 14 June 08). We also express reservations about the Commission's new draft guidance on religion and public benefit. The Classification Problem Since our report's publication, the Commission has accepted that it has been unable so far to establish the full extent of Christian charitable activity, despite new work that it now says was undertaken just before we verified our findings with the Commission and others. This confirms our fundamental thesis that present classification criteria fail to capture the full story with regard to faith based charitable activity. Moreover, while the Commission describes this as an "historical question" - as though Christian charity and volunteering is a legacy of the past - we suggest it equally reveals a modern lack of literacy across the whole of government regarding mainstream Christian institutions and principles, as well as those of other faiths. We are clear that the wider underestimation of the size of the faith based voluntary sector as a whole, and the Christian sector in particular, is also a function of shortcomings in data gathering by the state and the third sector. The Cabinet Office has rightly said it will invest in a new Centre to address these general weaknesses and has observed that it believes the Office for National Statistics serves the sector inadequately. Furthermore, the Commission takes our comments out of context, omitting to mention: That the Carnegie Enquiry into the Voluntary Sector made similar observations last year and noted that more research was likely to be needed. That NCVO states the number of faith groups as even fewer than the Charity Commission. That new evidence is needed in this area on the part of the Church as it responds to the new "public benefit" agenda ushered in by the 2006 Charity Act. For a start, the 65% of dioceses in our sample who have not yet discussed "public benefit" must do so. This gap in data could be addressed by asking charities in the annual return whether they consider themselves to be faith based or faith influenced. This would help to enhance information about the number of faith based agencies in the wider field of civic endeavour. Religion and Public Benefit Separately, we have been advised that the Charity Commission's draft guidance on religion and public benefit is a new departure from the common law in requiring all charities registered for the "advancement of religion" to expressly set out additional secular objects when they are, for example, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or educating school visitors to cathedrals. Forcing religious charities to add such categories as "relief of poverty" as opposed to religion would be an explicit departure from the common law and previous Charity Commission practice. Moreover, such a new regulatory regime would be incomprehensible to many mainstream Christians, who view service of others (feeding the hungry, etc) as an inherent part of their faith, not something separate. Theologically speaking, the Commission's draft guidance seems to suggest consultation with only a limited range of religious viewpoints at best, even within Christianity. Our respondents did not ask for special treatment, but for equal understanding. The Commission, after all, has consulted widely and formally with smaller Christian denominations and minority faiths. As a result it has taken a creative step in establishing a faith based unit. This unit now needs to listen carefully to the full realm of religious Britain in order that an objective assessment of its total contribution ≠ and its "public benefit" - can be truly reached. Such fresh information will help the Church understand itself better and the government to know far more about "what works" in UK third sector networks in their fullest variety. Francis Davis Elizabeth Paulhus Andrew Bradstock Von Hugel Institute St Edmund's College Cambridge CB3 OBN The report is available by e-mailing Kate Crofts at For more information on the Von Hugel Institute see:
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