Vaccines, domestic abuse, gambling, and more: News from the Church of England in Parliament
Yesterday in the House of Lords the Bishop of Gloucester spoke about vaccines, social capital of churches, and domestic abuse. The Bishops of Oxford and St Albans asked about inter-generational fairness.
The Bishop of St Albans received Written Answers on domestic abuse, gambling, and Hong Kong. The Bishop of Winchester received an answer about Further Education.
The Church Commissioners answered a question on Clergy Discipline Measures.
Full text below.
The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, Bishop for Prisons said in response to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons that was being repeated in the Lords: "I wish to make two points and I draw attention to my interests as listed in the register.
"First, I am very concerned about prisons. There are reports that about 71 prisoners have died, and the number of prison staff who have tested positive continues to rise alarmingly. There is great flux within a prison, with staff coming and going, and those being released from prison and those coming into prison. Will the Government consider prioritising the vaccinating of prisoners and those who work in prisons?
"Secondly, I add my voice to those calling for teachers and early years staff to be prioritised. Schools are open and our dedicated teachers and early years staff must be able to continue their work safely and not be off sick, if we are to do the right thing by our children."
The Bishop of Gloucester said in response to a question about the Office for National Statistics Social capital in the UK: 2020: "Churches and other faith communities bring together a diversity of people across all ages and backgrounds, and thus are often a strong source of social capital, as well as spiritual capital, as we have seen during the pandemic.
"Will the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government are doing, both financially and in other ways, to enable local and faith communities to invest in and rebuild their social capital, as we emerge from this pandemic?
The Bishop of Gloucester said during the first day of debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill: "Following the informative speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on these amendments I will be very brief.
"I simply would like an assurance from the Minister that all age groups will be included in this legislation, and that it will provide support and provision not only for pregnant women and the unborn child but for children of all ages whose trauma began in utero."
The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, said during a Take Note motion on the Report from the Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Tackling intergenerational unfairness: "My Lords, I welcome this key report on intergenerational unfairness and this debate. It is a privilege to take part. I want to focus my contribution on three issues.
"The first concerns education and training. I welcome the report’s perspective and recommendations; as others have said, they are even more relevant now. However,
as we know, the landscape is shifting significantly beneath our feet because of the immediate demands of the pandemic and the likely longer-term shifts in working patterns created by the fourth industrial revolution.
"We are sorely in need of creative, imaginative, cross-party and cross-society intergenerational thinking on education for life, not simply for work.
"Last week, I spent some time listening to colleagues whose role it is to support more than 280 Church of England schools in the diocese of Oxford, together responsible for the education of almost 60,000 children.
"While they reported the extraordinary creativity and commitment of their heads, teachers and governors, they also report that morale and energy in our schools are absolutely at rock bottom. Will the Government act to restore and build up the morale of the teaching profession at the moment? Will teachers be prioritised in the vaccination programme to enable schools to begin on-site teaching again more widely? Will the Government act to bring together the best minds of the day to focus on the challenge of all-age education through a royal commission or similar?
"The second issue is that of the changing world of work and the rise of the gig economy. Many gig workers in our country are without rights; this disproportionately affects young adults. The proportion of the workforce in zero-hours and gig work is increasing. Low-paid workers in the UK are more than twice as likely to lose their jobs in the pandemic.
"The Government have accepted the need for a good work plan and have committed to legislating to improve the clarity of employment status. The need is even more urgent now than a year ago, yet there is still no new employment strategy and no apparent progress to remedy a situation that is getting worse every month.
"The third issue is that of all-age communities. I welcome the survey and recommendations, especially the part played in the report by the people of Doncaster—part of my former diocese, Sheffield. However, the report and the Government’s response seem to be blind to the impact of churches and faith communities in building all-age social capital across communities and generations. The value of the services and support that church buildings alone provide, and the health and well-being that they create, has been calculated at £12.4 billion per annum.
"Churches were involved in running more than 35,000 projects before Covid, including food banks, parent and toddler groups, night shelters and breakfast clubs. Mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras are making a similar contribution within and across generations. Will the report’s authors and the Government give greater recognition to the vital role that faith communities play in the social fabric of the nation as builders of intergenerational fairness?
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said during a Take Note motion on the Report from the Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Tackling intergenerational unfairness: "My Lords, the decrease in the rates of home ownership for the younger generation is a major issue and not one of their own making. As this excellent report demonstrates, it is an important factor in addressing issues of intergenerational fairness.
"For many years, there has been a failure to supply housing adequately—an issue exacerbated by a cycle of stagnation fuelled by low market absorption rates and stalled developments.
"The Letwin report suggests that one of the most important reasons for this is that developers will build new homes only at a rate that the market can absorb and that, by diversifying housing products, rates of absorption will increase.
"However, when I put down Written Questions to Her Majesty’s Government on this topic, never once has it been acknowledged that it might be in the interest of developers to land bank, as increased supply is likely to reduce house prices. While I believe that this has contributed to the lack of supply, I agree that low absorption remains a real issue. However, I do not think that diversification alone will solve it.
"Since the 2008 financial crisis, like many other nations, we have pursued a monetary policy that increased asset prices. Quantitative easing has proved to be an effective mechanism for announcing budget deficits but, like any policy, it has both its benefits and its costs; in this case, it inflates assets.
"Of course, for those with assets, such as property, this is a very agreeable state to be in. It tends to benefit the older and the wealthier. However, for many young people, it has made property increasingly unaffordable.
"This report recognises that a decline in home ownership is partly due to house prices being inflated by monetary policy. This problem has been made worse by negative real interest rates and high rental costs, particularly in the more popular areas, making it almost impossible to save for a mortgage deposit. I acknowledge that tightening monetary policy may not reduce house prices, as there would be higher interest rates on mortgages, yet even the possibility of putting down a deposit and getting a mortgage is difficult when the monetary system is pitted against you.
"The key point is that quantitative easing is not a win-win policy. Indeed, it is having a significant negative impact on many young people. I was therefore surprised when I asked the Government about this and received a Written Answer that said: 'The separation of fiscal and monetary policy is a key feature of the UK’s economic framework, and the Government does not comment on the conduct and effectiveness of monetary policy.'
"This is not entirely correct as quantitative easing requires authorisation from the Treasury. If house prices are becoming unaffordable as a result of decisions made by the Government, they should not hide behind this separation. House prices have outstripped wage growth consistently over the past 20 years; I believe this to be the reason for lower ownership rates among our young people.
"Rising house prices are very lucrative for asset holders and corporate developers, but if Her Majesty’s Government genuinely want to help young people to get on the housing ladder, they need to be honest about the situation regarding corporate land banking or quantitative easing. It is therefore disappointing that the Government’s response to recommendation 6 focuses on inputs instead of setting out an ambitious programme based on outputs.
"I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will revisit this vital area as we try to work towards more intergenerational fairness as we emerge from the Covid pandemic."
The Bishop of St Albans asked a question on the progress of introducing Integrated Domestic Abuse Court pilot schemes.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar answered: "Planning for the Integrated Domestic Abuse Court pilot is under way with the Steering Group and Design Groups established and developing detailed proposals. We intend to launch the pilots later this year, despite the challenges brought by Covid-19 and the significant ongoing work to ensure the family courts continue to function throughout the pandemic."
The Bishop of St Albans asked on the costs of gambling-related harm.
Lord Bethell answered: "The exact figures on the cost to the National Health Service of gambling addiction is not collected centrally. However, the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan 2019/20 – 2023/24 has committed to spending up to £15 million on problem gambling by 2023/24."
The Bishop of St Albans asked: "Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made, if any, of the potential impact of the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic on the processing of Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa applications; and what steps they are taking to address any such impact."
Baroness Williams of Trafford answered: "The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa route launches from 31 January 2021. The majority of the case working for the BN(O) Visa route can be completed remotely.
"A limited number of case workers will need to attend a physical office location and will do so in accordance with Public Health England guidance on social distancing. We are also working closely with the commercial partner operating our Visa Application Centre (VAC) in Hong Kong regarding overseas applicants should they need to attend an appointment.
"Social distancing and sanitisation protocols are in place which are aligned with local regulations, and currently the VAC is operating at normal capacity."
The Bishop of Winchester, Dr Tim Dakin, asked the Government when they plan to publish the Further Education White Paper.
Baroness Berridge answered: "We published the White Paper Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth on 21 January 2021."
Andrew Selous answered: "The review group at Lambeth Palace is working to bring forward proposals to the General Synod for the replacement of the Clergy Discipline Measure.
"Sadly, because of the pandemic, the public consultations that were planned to take place at the end of 2020 have only just happened.
"A wide range of individuals and groups have responded to the interim proposals that the Working Group has put forward. The review group are now collating those responses and intend to formulate their proposals into a new piece of legislation.
"This new Measure will include an early triaging process, an alternative route for mediation, and ensure that adequate resources are made available to make the administration of discipline more efficient and transparent for all involved."