Churches And Other Warm Community Hubs Like Pubs Face Closure This Winter

Gordon Brown and Rowan Williams warn that churches and other warm community hubs like pubs face closure this winter unless government takes ‘honest’ approach

Churches and community hubs – including pubs – are threatened by closure this winter because ‘they cannot afford to keep the lights on’ unless the new UK government makes urgent reforms such as exemption from business rates, a new report shows.

The idea that churches and similar buildings might operate as ‘warm banks’ for vulnerable people is now under threat, according to the report, which has a joint foreword by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

These community institutions form a vital part of the safety net offering security and material support to millions of people but are now themselves becoming less secure, the report demonstrates.

Mr Brown and Dr Williams say:

What we are waiting to hear from the latest administration in Westminster is whether this urgency is recognised, and whether there is enough honesty about the problem and enough willingness to find a solution.  Britain’s safety net is torn. So much is clear from this report.  We dare to hope that it is not torn beyond repair; but that is up to public as well as private vision and generosity.

The cost of living and economic crises, on top of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now pose a threat not only to individual circumstances, but to the fabric of civil society and faith groups.

Tax breaks for volunteers and linking giving to the rate of inflation are among other proposals in the report aimed at relieving the social crisis at the heart of communities.

The new report by the Christian think tank Theos, A torn safety net: How the cost of living crisis threatens its own last line of defenceis based on extensive research and dozens of interviews with key community figures this year concentrated in Wolverhampton, Glasgow, Cornwall and London.

It says:

There is a risk that churches and other faith groups will close, not because of falling attendance or religious affiliation, but because they cannot afford to keep the lights on.

The report found that without action to address rising bills, the financial sustainability of buildings such as churches themselves will be threatened, and it is not only faith institutions which will be at risk of being lost as a result, but also community hubs such as pubs as well and scout huts, all of which are subject to business rates for utilities.

‘The safety net of charities and community groups which offer security to those in precarious circumstances is now at risk,’ the report says. ‘If the effects of this are not addressed effectively, it is possible that valuable institutions like churches may shut, leaving economic and social scars on the community.’

The report’s author, Hannah Rich, a senior researcher at Theos, describes the situation as a ‘perfect storm’ for communities. She says: ‘As the economy has spiralled, we have seen these anchor institutions themselves become less secure. Soaring energy costs threaten the ability to run vital community spaces. At the same time, volunteer capacity is stretched thin and financial donations are drying up. It is a perfect storm.’

The report argues that a new ‘social recession’ has emerged in local communities as a result of four key dimensions of insecurity: income and employment, housing, access to food, and migration status.

As well as the energy price cap for community hubs, Theos makes a series of recommendations, including:

– A tax break for volunteering time, which has retreated, as well as greater employer support for paid volunteering leave and changes in the tax code for paying petrol and other expenses to volunteers.

– Helping charities and churches and people who generously give to them by raising the rate of Gift Aid on charitable donations, with an increase for groups being able to claim an extra 25p for every £1 donated by a taxpayer to 30p or more.

– A link between giving with the rate of inflation for organisations and congregations reliant on regular giving via direct debit.

Theos also argues that it should be made easier for local communities and faith groups to invest in assets like housing for local residents. The Charities Act 2011 requires charitable organisations selling land or property to achieve the best possible price for it, unless there are compelling reasons otherwise. This means charities and churches are often forced to sell to corporate developers, and the resulting properties are unaffordable for local community members.

Written by: Lizzie Harvey

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