Hospital Chaplaincy by NHS

Over the years arguments have been mounted for and against hospital chaplaincy being funded by NHS funds. Of course, NHS funding is from the public purse and the public purse is funded through the taxes of the populace at large, both religious and non-religious.

Now in early 2010 with NHS cuts mooted of £20 billion and the downward effect on hospital beds, staffing levels and drugs availability, the NHS employs some 1,000 full and part time chaplains, apparently mainly CofE ministers. If the average salary of a starting chaplain with health care training and call-out fee plus retention and recruiting money all paid for by NHS comes to approximately £30,000 per annum per chaplain (that’s apparently a conservative value) then the overall cost to the taxpayer is £30 million per year. I suspect that the actual figure could be half as much again. Maybe more.

This is a quote from The National Secular Society’s on-line news page 1/4/2010.

“… Newsline reader Scott Smith in Nottingham was searching the on-line job vacancies on the NHS site. He noticed two advertisements adjacent to each other for his own local Heath Care Trust, one for a chaplain for the “Department of Spiritual and Pastoral Care Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust”. The salary offered was up to £34,000. The other was for a staff nurse in the stroke unit. Salary? £20,710.”

Then we have this in an article:

“In Wednesday’s Budget, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, repeated that the £20 billion would come through “efficiency savings” and not key services.” Daily Telegraph 26/3/10

Good; glad that’s sorted out. That means the non-essential members otherwise known as ‘hangers-on’ will be put out to pasture or paid for by their respective churches. They are not a ‘key service’. Any patient wanting the ministrations of the clergy can book one in and either pay for the service or have it paid for by the church. But not on my money, thank you very much. And I can hear a resounding agreement from my fellow non-believers.

The Telegraph article goes on to list probable resulting cuts from the proposals outlined so briefly in the Budget. Now I am sure that savings can be made for wasteful NHS practices and within individual strategic health authorities. But please, let’s not call the hospital chaplaincy an essential service.

While I personally consider that chaplaincy is probably less than useful, I don’t advocate getting rid of such a service, merely sheeting the cost of such service home to the churches.

A more hard line approach and one that I could support would state that society should rid itself of anachronistic, self-serving, privileged and ultimately life-denying groups of people who offer no help in this, the only life we have, and offer impossible-to-be-kept promises for some pie in the sky after life. At best they offer a sanctimonious comfort of sorts; when what is needed is more trained nursing staff, more hospital beds and more access to NHS funded medication and other services.

It doesn’t stop with hospitals either; that is only one area where religious chaplains have made their beds. There are the armed forces, the prisons and the higher education institutions.

I would not have a clue how to estimate the cost to the taxpayer of all these salaries and other perks enjoyed by the clergy.

I would postulate that even multiplying the £30 million by 4 different arenas which chaplains inhabit would fall far short of the actual cost.

Now, any tax payer who is not religious, or only nominally so, can rightly feel miffed at having to fund chaplains who are basically employees of the churches to which they belong. Why on earth don’t the churches pay for their own chaplains to mount a presence (if they must) in the above four institutions? Why should their salaries come out of the public purse? The tax free privilege ‘enjoyed’ by any church coming from its rental properties, its tithing and bequests from the faithful plus charity drives should be enough to keep it in the manner to which it needs to become accustomed.

The end to religious privilege has to be pushed and pushed hard, persistently and consistently, at every and all opportunities. The free ride religious institutions have had on the back of the taxpaying public must come to an end.

It is insulting to a growing number of non-religious people that public funds are freely given to any institution that meets the ‘criteria’ of a church. Scientology is one such group that abuses the public purse. There are other Johnny-come-lately quasi-religious institutions that apply for the generous benefits to be had in this society.

It is all very well to murmur that the CofE and Catholics have been with our society for hundreds of years and it is a matter of historical record that they have political influence and that the tax breaks are set in stone.  Such privilege is not set in stone. It just requires political will and, of course, the bishops out of the House of Lords!!! And that’s another issue altogether.

Religions do not have an absolute right to partake of this financial largesse forever. The time has come for all of this to stop. All privileges; treat them like corporations and tax them according to the law of the land.

The middle of a global economic/financial crisis is an ideal time to change the status of churches within our society. The Greeks have decided to tax the churches as part of their Government’s response to the economic crisis:

“The Greek government has announced it will start taxing churches as part of its efforts to get out of its financial crisis. A new draft bill to be tabled in parliament next week imposes a 20 per cent tax on the Orthodox church’s real estate income, reportedly worth over 10 million Euros (US $14.8 million) a year, the Wall Street Journal reports.” LifeSiteNews 24/3/2010

Mind you the churches are jumping up and down saying that it is unconstitutional and ‘unprincipled’ to tax the churches. They will appeal in the Greek and European Courts.

I will certainly follow the unfolding of this church vs state financial tussle over the following months. I know what result I am hoping for and I hope it doesn’t get watered down for the sake of compromise with the churches.


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