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Could The Staggering £3bn Social Contribution Of Religious Groups Be The Antidote To Austerity Cuts?

20/05/2015 16:56 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:59 BST

Churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith-based groups give an equivalent of £3 billion worth of time to social projects and are filling the "widening gaps" left by sweeping government cuts, a new report has claimed.

The report, from the charity Cinnamon Network, estimates that two million people - the vast majority of them volunteers - from faith groups give at least 384 million hours a year to projects like food banks, drop-in groups, debt advice, family support, employment coaching and temporary accomodation.

A significant 288 million of those hours are unpaid, the report claims, and 48 million people are receiving much-needed support from religious groups every year.

But with more cuts expected and scant chance of more government spending on social services in the near future, local churches and faith groups need to do even more to help their communities, it says.

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The charity surveyed over 2000 faith groups around the UK, and used the living wage of £7.85 an hour to value the time given by all groups at £3 billion: the equivalent of 0.4% of the government’s total planned public spend of £743 billion for 2015/2016, according to the March 2015 budget.

The total contribution of the groups would be "considerably larger" if the buildings and equipment donated by the groups to social projects were taken into account, as well as the financial savings made to local authorities through the services, and reductions in benefits.

"At a time when budget cuts, changes to benefits and rising housing costs are affecting many communities across the country, there are groups of committed and faith-driven individuals who are stepping into the gap," the report says.

"Any government will be facing a challenge in reducing the deficit. There is a very real prospect that statutory provision will be increasingly limited for the foreseeable future, which in turn will create widening gaps in services.

"Into these gaps, the Cinnamon Network wants to see local churches and other faith groups grow in confidence and capacity in their role at the heart of the community."

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Groups from all major faiths were invited to take part in the survey

The research, which will be launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Wednesday night, is an audit of over 2,000 faith groups. The most people they are helping are most often families, young people and those in crisis.

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The needs addressed by the groups in the survey

The report's authors said that families and young people could be receiving the most attention because their needs are visible in the community, and projects to support families are easy to start up.

But they noted that "There were comparatively low numbers of churches and other faith groups who were working with people trapped in trafficking or prostitution or with refugees and asylum seekers. There may be many reasons for this and they are highly challenging areas to engage with, but Cinnamon would like to explore this more."

It now trying to work with projects in areas like prostitution, which could work more closely with faith groups.

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The types of activity the groups offered

The report also found that the groups helped men and women in similar ratios, and worked with people of all ages, disproving a "stereotype" of faith groups predominantly working with women and children, it said.

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The age and gender of those receiving faith group services

Each year, the average faith group that responded to the survey contributed:

  • 8 Social Action projects
  • Support for 1,656 beneficiaries
  • 4 paid staff
  • 66 volunteers
  • 3,319 paid staff hours
  • 9,988 volunteer hours
  • £111,311 worth of support (paid staff hours, plus volunteer hours calculated using the living wage of £7.85, plus management)

Cinnamon Network approached 4,000 groups around the UK and had a 47% response rate.

If only 47% of all the faith groups in the country carried out the same work (the same percentage as those who replied to the survey), they would be helping nearly 48 million people each year, delivering 220,000 social action projects through approximately 125,000 paid staff and 1,910,500 volunteers, the report says.

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Bird, the founder of Cinnamon Network which is a Christian charity, said that the purpose of the research was “to provide evidence for both the social impact and the economic value of all that faith groups do in communities across the UK.”

"Our vision is to see local churches and other faith groups more empowered and encouraged to take up their place as they serve at the heart of their community. We also want to see their work externally recognised and properly resourced as part of the overall picture of provision in any given community."

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The audit was carried out by 57 'local champions’, members of local church networks who took data from groups of all faiths in their area. The survey covered Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh groups, but the majority (93% of groups) were Christian.

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The faith groups that responded

The 'local champions' will now work to share the results with MPs to encourage government to work more closely with religious groups.

Michael Banks, Deputy Chief Constable, Durham Police who runs the national volunteer-based policing scheme Citizens in Policing, said the research was “an opportunity to better understand the social action network across our country.”

As part of HuffPost’s What’s Working initiative, we’re profiling inspirational people and organisations who are making a positive contribution to society by finding solutions to the world’s problems.

Whether that’s homeless women taking up running to boost their confidence, or Desmond Tutu revealing why religion inspired him to fight for equality, we’re keen to share these stories. If you know of a someone who fits the bill, or would like to be featured, email us at ukwhatsworking@huffingtonpost.com.