Secularisation could see volunteering fall due to the significant role faith plays in the social care system in Britain, a government advisor has warned.
“We know about the statistics, in Britain and in the US, if you're a regular churchgoer, you're more likely to volunteer in the UK. And that's from the government's own data pointing in that direction”, commented Social care expert Professor Francis Davis, who is head of Digby Stuart College, at the University of Roehampton.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, he pointed to other research in the US: ”This shows that there's a relationship between regular church-going and willingness to cook a meal for a neighbour, you're more likely to vote, you're more likely to volunteer”, he said.
Professor Davis was responding to a new government-commissioned report which has found that without unpaid carers, the social care system in the UK would collapse.
The King's Fund says around 1-and-a-half million people take on this role for around 50 hours or more a week. They are calling for more support for carers.
“Across Europe, the churches, in general, are the single largest provider of welfare after the government”, continued Prof Davis. “We would expect that level of volunteering and civic contribution to begin to decline, linked to secularisation”, he said.
Professor Davis has advised and held public appointments with government departments, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health. He explained the risks of secularisation.
“In real terms, that's a real problem. Just take respite care in Britain where last year 55,000 people got respite care from their Council”, he explained, so they could “look after somebody that needed so much care that the person caring for them couldn't cope”. “That's dropped by half”, he said.
“In lots of localities, the only people in a position to step up to provide a bit of that kind of gap-filling are the local churches”. Professor Davis cited the case of Southampton, which held a day of prayer:
“They went to see the city council and said we want to care for addicts. The city council said to the churches, ‘Actually, the crisis in our city is the absence of foster parents’. And it's the churches who stepped up to provide the foster parents where government and others could not find them”, he explained.
“If the church is in decline, we lose lots of what's good in every neighbourhood. And in practical terms, that means that someone like me, who's a carer, has got one less person to lean on to support the family member that I support and keep out of hospital."
Separate to the Kings Fund report, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MP's Bill has passed in Westminster that ensures carers can take unpaid leave from their employment.
North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain's Carer's Leave Bill means that carers across the UK will have a statutory right to take five days of unpaid leave per year. The entitlement applies to all employees regardless of length of service and starting from day one of their employment.
“I think we can pray for carers because they need to know that our prayers are sustaining them in their work”, reflected Professor Davis.
“We can make a point of going round and praying with carers in the ten minutes that they manage to have a cup of tea because they can even use that prayer as a way to download about what they had to lift, or carry, or fetch, or wipe the night before”, he continued.
“So it's just consciously sticking it into our thoughts and prayers, and then maybe a little bit into our schedule, so it makes a real difference”, he told Premier.