Sunday, 25 August 2013

God works for Barnet Homes !

Having had the rather interesting diversion of a theological debate on this blog, with exquisite timing Mrs Angry has discovered that Barnet Homes have engaged the services of an evangelical christian group to "help them with their work". Her blog is well worth a read - - because it is truly mindboggling that such a thing is happening. It appears that officers from Barnet Homes are being trained by members of  "Christians against Poverty". This group is open in its aims of using its charity work to proseletyse victims of poverty.

Before I give my opinions, let me put my cards on the table here. I work as a volunteer for an organisation "The Passage" , a homeless daycentre, which is a charity set up by the Catholic Church. When I read about "Christian Poverty Action" and the way they work I was shocked. The Passage is funded by Westmintser Council for some of its outreach work and is well respected in the field. This grant is provided to perform specific work and the way the cash is administered is controlled and has democratic accountability. One of the conditions is that the charity performs its role professionally and with respect to the clients. This means not proseletysing them, amongst other things. I would estimate that maybe 50% if not more of the volunteers I work with are not Roman Catholics and a fair few are of no religion at all. It is made 100% clear to all volunteers that their job is to help people, not to convert them. People are expected to be professional in their dealings with clients. In the two years I've been volunteering, I don't think I've ever once discussed religion with a client, let alone invited them to pray. The centre would not work if that sort of attitude played any part in the equation. It most certainly wouldn't work for any of the volunteers who I work with. People work at the centre because it gives the chance for people in a desperate situation to turn around their lives. I would find it repulsive if the organisation attached strings to the work it does. I hope that gives my comments a degree of context.

So returning to "Christians against Poverty". Mrs Angry highlighted the following extract from the Barnet CAP blog "We had some amazing news this month when one of our old clients decided she wanted to ACCEPT JESUS as her Lord and Saviour." - On the same page we saw this comment "The picture above shows one of our money courses, teaching Barnet Homes housing officers the money course and making new friends throughout. The first one day money course was enjoyed so much, that the next day more people joined us than were booked on, and we have been invited back to do more. The CAP money course is such a good tool, and fits so perfectly with all the benefit changes coming in. Obviously God has a plan!".  Now I have no issue with religious charities conducting their business. If they wish to help people with debt, I would say that is a good thing. If they are open and honest about their methods and motivations that is also fine. Mrs Angey highlights what they see as the purpose of their work "Combining CAP's expertise with the love and message of the church we have a life transforming mix. Every year we help over 20,000 people to get out of debt and see 500 people become Christians through our Debt Help work as well as 10,000 people benefiting from our CAP Money Course."

What is not fine at all is for Barnet Homes to engage in a partnership with such a group, for the purposes of training officers. I have no issue with Barnet Homes referring people to Barnet CAP where that may be appropriate. For instance if a Barnet Homes worker comes across someone who is a committed Christian in debt, seeking assistance, then referral to them would be appropriate. The officer would have to be clear in explaining that the group are evangilical Christians in any referral. They should also explain that the group are likely to want to recruit referrals. This would be exactly the same as an elderly Jewish person being referred to a Jewish charity. There may be circumstances where a non christian may also be referred, but this should be done in such a way as to explain exactly what Barnet CAP are and how they operate. It may well be that the positive outweigh the negatives, but the client must be under no illusion as to what is being offered and why.

Where Barnet Homes have crossed the line is sending officers on training courses with Barnet CAP. This seems to me to be crossing the boundary between religion and state in a most alarming way. Whilst I am sure that charity workers withing Barnet CAP have a wealth of experience to offer in dealing with debt, and it is clearly good to share this, training Barnet Homes officers is a completely different thing.  In effect Barnet Homes, a subsidiary of Barnet Council is using public money to fund an evangelical organisation.

Now I have no issue with the BarnetCAP or its volunteers. I don't question that they are doing what they believe to be the right thing. I have a big issue with Barnet Homes entering a partneship with them. Firstly Barnet Homes was specifically set up by Barnet Council, to remove democratic accountability from their governance. They are a quango. They spend our money, but we have no say in how they do it. Secondly there is no transparency in this relationship. 

So why do I have a distrust of evangelical organisations especially in the field of training? For those new to the wonderful world of Barnet and Barnet blogs, you may be surprised to know that both myself and Mrs Angry attended the same primary school (she was a few years older than me though, Heh Heh).  This was St Vincents. It may surprise you to hear that I once had a convesation with the Ex Headmistress of St Vincents. We both had the joys of "training" by a certain Miss O'Donovan. If ever Mrs Angry gets a bit too big for her boots, I simply say "Miss O'Donovan" to her and she breaks out in a cold sweat. I suspect that anyone who suffered her "traditional" methods of education doesn't really enjoy horror films. We know that there is nothing more frightening than a small Irish woman in charge of a class of 6 year olds. I have no idea what deep psychological harm was caused by this woman. She was without peer in the way she terrified those in her care. Many people have challenged this statement, but when her methods were explained, they concurred. She was a junior teacher when Miss O'Donovan was teaching. She told me that even the staff were terrified of Miss O'Donovan. Whatever Miss O'Donovan did or didn't teach me (I am dyslexic, so not much really) she did convince me that I was a very evil person and I would go to hell. I am still not entirely sure she isn't right! Maybe the need to obsessively write blogs when I hear about Barnet Homes officers being trained by evangelical Christians is part of that damage. As I wrote this blog, I speculated how a training session for Barnet Homes officers may have proceeded if Miss O'Donovan was running it. I suspect that the officers would need counselling afterwards for post traumatic shock. That is why all sorts of alarm bells rang when I saw this. I am sure BarnetCAP are too sensible to let loose a Miss O'Donovan on anyone in a training session, but one cannot help but question whether these structures are appropriate for a taxpayer funded organisation such as Barnet Homes. As regular readers of this blog will note, I write this not as someone with a fundamental hatred of religion.

I mention this because I have a deep distrust of zealots teaching people. I have a simple test I apply when I try and assess whether I agree with the aims and aspirations of a charity. Does the charity see a successful outcome as being good for the client or good for the charity? In the case of the Passage, we see a successful outcome as seeing someone housed. The best outcome is that we never see them again. It strikes me that BarnetCAP see a successful outcome as someone becoming an evangelical christian and member of their church.

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