I was delighted to hear Alistair Burt MP speak during the FaithAction Faith and Health conference last week and also pleasantly surprised that he didn't shy from some of the thorny issues around faith. In fact, he confirmed my belief that UK society benefits from the involvement of faith communities and that there's room for more too!
"Faith reaches people when nothing else can," he said. I agree.
As he developed his theme of faith's reach and endurance he focused not only on those suffering with ill-health but also on their carers - so often drawn from and supported by faith communities, even if the support is simply listening over a cup of tea.
The pressure is now greater than ever for government to deliver the right care at the right time. The flexible and relational approaches of faith and community groups demonstrate how this can be achieved. In my view there's a need to recognise the knowledge and in-depth understanding that faith organisations have of communities and individuals.
Even if we turn away for a moment from the formal provision of services, the networks of support which are within faith communities address those most modern of well-being issues: isolation and loneliness. The Minister was keen to point out this is not exclusively an aging population issue, but also the reality of life and expectations produced by different work patterns, family breakdown and a society that is so very different from 50 years ago.
A visit with other MPs to a South Africa which was emerging from apartheid to democracy caused Alistair Burt to recollect that it was that nation's strength of faith which helped its transition. And to observe generously that therefore it is often the actions of faith organisations which must be recognised above the work of government.
In closing the Minister addressed his comments to those of faith in the hall. In amongst the desire of faith-based organisations to 'learn the language' and get connected with the public sphere in terms of health and social care (as well as other public services), he encouraged people of faith to "be respectful" while "being yourself". Not to sacrifice the faith distinctiveness. "Don't compromise." Recognise that while there is a need for greater 'faith literacy' in the health world, what is important is to demonstrate that faith delivers significant impact into that world.
To this end FaithAction has developed guidance for faith and community groups that explains how they can measure their health work and evaluate their impact. Making the Case is a free online and printable resource, to aid organisations that want to take steps in this direction. And want to do so in a way that others can understand, so that their work is counted.
Finally at the Faith and Health conference, in a rare moment of bi-partisanship, Labour MP Stephen Timms congratulated Alistair Burt and the Department of Health for continuing the Health and Care Strategic Partner Programme, and having FaithAction as the faith partner in this partnership of the health system and the voluntary and community sector.
This blog was first posted on www.faithaction.net March 2016