Bishop Martyn has called for greater recognition of faith groups in resilience law. The Lord Bishop of Leicester was speaking in a House of Lords debate on the Civil Contingencies Act. You can see a recording of the the whole speech by clicking here and read the text here.
He told the House: "Even as we speak, faith-based organisations are responding to another national emergency, which might not require flashing blue lights or daily briefings but is shocking in its scale nevertheless. Across the country, and for several years now, churches, mosques, temples, gurdwaras and synagogues have been hosting and supporting food banks and community pantries. My Lords, faith groups may appear to be a superfluous stakeholder to the Government Departments responsible for risk assessment and planning. But, the children of God in need of food parcels may tell a different story.
"Faith groups also have a distinct contribution to make in the face of crises. Beyond meeting material needs alone, they are often central to reinforcing a local sense of identity and the connections that comprise a community’s social fabric. The gift of our common life together can easily be disrupted by disaster or conflict, yet cannot be maintained or mended by a statutory service no matter how well-intentioned.
"With this in mind, if the Civil Contingencies Act is to be updated, as the Select Committee recommends, to reflect the importance of several societal organisations not recognised in the current legislation, might I suggest that faith groups and faith-based organisations are also included?"
It was the second time Bishop Martyn has spoken in the House, following his maiden speech there on 9 December 2022. Click here to read about and hear that speech.
In this latest speech he said he was disappointed that although the Lords Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee report advocated for a whole-society approach, no reference was made in it to the role of faith groups in emergency planning and response.
Bishop Martyn said: "My Lords, faith groups and leaders across the country were an integral part of the response to Covid-19. A 2020 report by the APPG for Faith and Society, based on research with local authorities, found that faith communities were instrumental in offering buildings, running food banks, information sharing, befriending, collecting, cooking and delivering food, and providing volunteers for local authority programmes. Accordingly, the APPG found, local authorities developed a newfound appreciation for the agility, flexibility and professionalism of faith-based organisations, and that local authorities were keen to continue and build on these relationships for the future.
"When I consulted with my own local public health team, I heard a similar account. In Leicester, throughout 2020 and 2021, there was a fortnightly Faiths Engagement Group which brought public bodies together with faith leaders to coordinate how to translate and disseminate important messages about the virus itself and the associated restrictions. Our city’s Director of Public Health, Professor Ivan Browne, told me – and I quote – “I would argue that any strategic document that in any way considers a community response to a crisis must consider the role of community and faith groups”.
"Of course, faith groups’ readiness to respond to emergencies didn’t begin with Covid-19. Indeed, faith groups are named as an important stakeholder in the National Resilience Standards for Local Resilience Forums.
"After the 2016 floods, for example, Khalsa Aid, a Sikh charity, and groups of Muslim volunteers spent weeks in the affected towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, serving thousands of hot meals and helping with the clean-up.
"Across the UK, whenever there have been terror attacks or explosions, churches have opened to offer shelter and hospitality for those affected and for emergency services to base themselves. And of course, there is the Salvation Army, which as well as a Christian denomination, is one of the world’s largest providers of social aid and humanitarian assistance – frequently on the frontlines of the response to earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis across the globe."
He also called for the report to go further when it speaks about the role of education in building our society's resilience and consider how our education system can instill the attributes which are the building blocks of a resilient citizenry.