Follow the money is a popular retort. I’ve been chasing taxpayer’s money into some very odd corners.
I’m indebted to the National Secular Society for first alerting me to something quite mysterious. Those priests you occasionally see darting along hospital corridors, on their way to administer the last rites to some poor soul; the Iman arriving by taxi to make his incantations in your local hospital’s nice new Muslim prayer room, Â the Vicar emerging from a chat with a lonely old lady at her bedside – I had imagined I was witnessing the true selflessness of their vocation, how they spent the hours over and above that required by the regular services in their church or mosque, an example of their dedication to the souls of their parish/whatever.
I had no idea that they too, were dipping heavily into the NHS funds! What business does the State, on behalf of taxpayers of all creeds and religions have, to subsidise the already wealthy religious organisations?
Heavily indeed! According to the Royal College of Nursing, there has been a reduction in nurse staffing of around 5,780 between May 2010 and June 2012 – yet hospital trusts continued to employ almost 500 hospital chaplains.
“Our previous research suggests that around Â£29m of healthcare money is used annually to pay the salaries of religious chaplains, but this sum increases when you take into consideration the upkeep of office space, chapels, prayer rooms which also come out of hospital budgets. It is time that the religious bodies stepped up to the plate and relieved the public purse of this expense.”
The Department of Health has provided funding for hospital chaplains since theÂ foundation of the NHS in 1948. The close connection between the State and theÂ Church of England meant that originally all posts went to Anglicans and it was assumedÂ that the majority of patients would be Anglican. It was also deemed appropriate that aÂ hospital should have a chapel…
Over the past 10 years, multi-culturalism has decreed that this should include a dedicated room for other faiths too. I have previously commented on my local hospital which doesn’t have room for a scanner, but has provided a large dedicated room for those of the Muslim faith.
I should make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with practitioners of all and every faith visiting hospitals to succour their disciples – but why the NHS, short of taxpayer funding as itÂ is, should be setting aside large areas of real estate for the few ambulatory patients, or paying the salary of vicars, priests and imans, defeats me.
The taxpayer, regardless of his personal faith, already pays for religious counselling, provided on behalf of the State for certain groups of people that it is hard to argue with.
The armed forces, for instance. Â In order for prayers to be said in the middle of a war zone before men and women risk their lives on our behalf, it is necessary to provide a chaplain that has been trained to endure battle conditions, and is frequently risking his own life in the process, so theÂ Â£22 million pounds a year that the MoD spend on supporting 280 Christian padres – of whom a full quarter cannot visit the ‘front line’ because of ‘medical issues’ – is understandable; though arguably, the Christian churches could fund this themselves.
Less easy to support is those in prison – for have they not already shown themselves unwilling to live by their tenets commandments? I can understand the religious organisations desire to be on hand for those that wish to repent their wicked past – but the estimated employment cost of the 358 directly employed chaplains is approximately Â£10.3 million.Â The 1952 Prison ActÂ requires that there be an Anglican chaplain on hand in every prison – why?Â
Then we have state funded schools. As chaplains are usually employed directly by the school and funded from its budget, there are no official figures for the numbers now in the state sector. A Church of England survey gives some reliable figures for state funded chaplains; it noted that ââ¦ almost all are directly funded from the schoolâs own budgetâ i.e. the taxpayer, yet again. The funding for those of other faiths is obscure.
Equally, tax payers give an estimatedÂ Â£42 million a year via the government, to the church to maintain their listed buildings.
Blimey, you may not pop into church on a Sunday morning and stick ten bob into the discrete velvet pouch any longer – but you are certainly dipping into your pockets with a vengeance to support the work of one of the wealthiest organisations in the world.
Note the outcry regarding taxpayers supporting wealthy banker’s bonuses…