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The BHA today announces the launch of a major new report

Proposed public service reforms risk discrimination against employees and service users and negative effects on social cohesion

The British Humanist Association (BHA) today announces the launch of a major new report into the contracting out of public services to religious organisations. The launch of the report is being supported by the TUC and its conclusions endorsed by public figures including Lord Warner, former minister at the Department of Health.

The report's findings demonstrate that there is no evidence that religious organisations offer any distinctive benefits to the supply and provision of public services and actually that the Government's clear policy objective of expanding the role of religious organisations within the public services runs the risk of lowering standards, increasing inequalities, introducing 'parallel services' and damaging social cohesion.

The research warns of the dangers of discrimination against staff not protected by Employment Equality Regulations pertaining to religion or belief or sexual orientation because of the exemptions that religious organisations have from equality legislation, and of potential barriers to accessing public services for the general public.

Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, said 'We are publishing Quality and Equality to draw attention to our concerns about the current policy to make religion a central feature in the provision and delivery of a wide range of public services. Through the report, we want to make clear our position that the most fair and most inclusive services - for service users of all faiths and none - are secular services. The report sets out the problems for employees and service users, the risks of discrimination and inequality, the damage to social cohesion and the infringements on human rights, which will arise from the Government's policy of contracting out public services to religious organisations. We are calling on the Government to address these concerns.'

Polly Toynbee, President of the BHA, said 'It cannot be right that any provider of public services is permitted by law to discriminate in employment policies or in the manner in which it provides statutory, state funded public services.'

Quality and Equality calls for secular and inclusive services and recommends a more transparent tendering process for religious organisations contracted into public service supply and delivery. In addition, it highlights the need for legislative change to ensure that organisations providing public services:

  • could not discriminate between service users on grounds of 'religion or belief', or on any other grounds;
  • must respect the human rights of service users;
  • have equality-based employment policies, so that no one is privileged for a position because of her/his religion or belief, her/his sexual orientation, or on any other irrelevant ground.

Rt. Hon. Lord Warner, former Minister of State, Department of Health, said 'As a strong supporter of a mixed economy of providers of public services in the interests of choice, contestability and more personalisation of services it is vital that public money is not used to further religious objectives or to discriminate against service users and staff. This report shows why we need to amend the Human Rights Act - a groundbreaking piece of legislation by this Government - and other equality legislation to remedy the situation that has been inadvertently created in our public services. The continuing and necessary programme of reform in our public services makes it ever more urgent to erect stronger legislative barriers to prevent discriminatory behaviour by religious organisations, particularly as we live in a largely secular society.'

Notes to Editors

Quality and Equality: Human Rights, Public Services and Religious Organisations can be downloaded from the BHA website at http://tinyurl.com/25w2hb

An executive summary can be downloaded at http://tinyurl.com/3a4497

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for an open and secular state.

Quality and Equality will be launched at 10.00-11.00 Wednesday 28th November 2007, Policy Exchange Ideas Space, Clutha House, 10 Storeys Gate, Westminster, London, SW1P 3AY.

The launch will be chaired by Polly Toynbee and have speakers from the British Humanist Association and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on naomi@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7079 3585 or 07779 703 242 or Andrew Copson on 020 7079 3584 or 07855 380633

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