The Church of Scotland is going on the road this autumn to ask its 400,000 members to shape the direction the Church should take into the future. What does the future hold for the social mission of the Church? What does it mean for CrossReach, our professional social care provider?
The Church’s efforts in the 19th century were vital because health and social care were low on the Government’s agenda. Perhaps the most significant of the Church of Scotland’s initiatives was the Deaconess Hospital in Edinburgh which trained nurses and offered free medical care to patients from all over Scotland. The project was handed over to the state when the National Health Service (Scotland) Act was passed in 1947. This pattern is repeated throughout the history of our social mission. Funded by its members, the Church has established many innovative services, such as free schools, which proved to have enormous value to society. But, as the Welfare State developed, these were handed over to the state because it had the resources to develop them to their full potential.
Today, CrossReach continues to work in partnership with the state. We are an independent charity and receive funding from the Church of Scotland, but we are also contracted by local and national government to run some social care services. This allows us to work across the country to support people who are experiencing homelessness, learning disabilities, mental health issues, addictions, childhood trauma, dementia, and many other circumstances.
Yet the Welfare State, which took over the Church’s key role in social care for much of the 20th century, is in a period of flux. Public funding for social care is falling but the need for support is increasing, primarily due to our ageing population. We need a new approach to social care.
It is interesting to see how others approach the provision of social care. In the Netherlands, for example, a significant proportion of social care is delivered independently of the government by the church and by other socially minded organisations. This allows social care projects the freedom to design services around local need, rather than a funder’s requirements. Yet, to adopt such an approach across Scottish social care would be to lose the advantage of relative stability which public funding provides. Added to this, government is in a position to fund services addressing complex issues like homelessness and addiction which are difficult to fundraise for. So, public funding is scarce, yet complex social problems persist. So we cannot rely solely on public funding, or solely on private funding.
The way forward for the Church of Scotland is to connect the outstanding, professional social care services of CrossReach with the inspiring, voluntary social care projects being run by local churches across the country.
Even seemingly small voluntary projects can make a huge difference. For example, Lochbroom and Ullapool Parish Church in the West Highlands is working with a local car garage and dedicated volunteers to provide the Ullapool Hospital Car service, which helps local people travel the 60 miles to Inverness for hospital appointments.
The church today has the ethic, will, passion and – through CrossReach – expertise to make a real difference in society. We have done so in the past and it is our ambition to continue this legacy of cooperation and coproduction so we can continue to support communities in Scotland.
Bill Steele is Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Social Care Council (CrossReach); crossreach.org.uk