In Parliament today, Black Country MP John Spellar highlighted the challenges facing places of worship.
Questioning the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Spellar outlined that places of worship ‘are more important than ever in providing for the spiritual and material needs of their congregations’ and in ‘combating loneliness and mental health problems’.
Spellar queried what help MHCLG was providing places of worship – both in making them safe and in terms of regular engagement.
John Spellar added: “In Sandwell we have a rich mix of faiths and their places of worship play a crucial role in our community. The Covid crisis has put huge pressure on them and they deserve our gratitude and support.”
It is clear from what the Secretary of State has said that he recognises that in these troubled times places of worship are more important than ever in providing for the spiritual and material needs of their congregations and in combating loneliness and mental health problems. However, they face their own challenges in making their premises safe for their worshippers and meeting the costs of that as well as for their own people. What help is the Department giving directly to places of worship to facilitate that provision, and is it engaging with them regularly to ensure that this can be effectively implemented?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a series of very important points. At the start of the pandemic, I recognised that places of worship needed to be prioritised. They should not be relegated behind other activities, whether shops, casinos or other important things that we want to keep open to protect people’s livelihoods. Places of worship matter for those with faith, and we needed to ensure that they could reopen. I worked extremely closely with faith leaders through our places of worship taskforce. That work continues, and we have very good relationships with all the major faiths. The guidelines are in place and are now extremely detailed. They cover not only basic guidelines for all faiths, but very detailed guidelines for individual practices for particular religions. We saw that prominently recently, for example, with the Jewish holidays, when we worked out detailed guidelines for Yom Kippur. We will continue to work closely with faith leaders in the weeks and months ahead.