"Speech to Faithworks", London 2005
Tony Blair (Labour)
I am delighted to have the opportunity today to pay tribute to Faithworks and the work which you, as churches and Christian organizations, undertake in communities up and down the country.
The Faithworks Movement exists to apply faith to social action - at home and abroad, through the Christian organizations in which you participate, and by bringing the Christian voice to bear on the great global challenges of poverty and injustice.
I give my wholehearted support to the Faithworks mission.
The voluntary sector, including the churches and faith communities, have always played a significant role in social action in Britain - in education, in welfare, in support for so many of the most vulnerable and needy in our society.
Virtually every community in the country benefits from your work in some way.
I know that you, Steve, and your path-breaking charity Oasis, are an excellent example of Faithworks in action. In addition to your work with the homeless, with young people and with parents, Oasis is independently sponsoring and managing three of the new academy schools, with strong support from the respective local communities in Enfield and Lincolnshire. Thousands of Christian and other faith charities have similar stories to tell, including churches of all denominations in every community in the land.
I know that people talk a great deal about the decline of religion and the churches in our national life. But in terms of social action and commitment, community by community, it is your revival and adaptation which are striking. It is what has brought you here today. I would like to see you play a bigger not a lesser role in the future. I say this because of the visible, tangible difference you are making for the better in our society for so many people. That is the proof of your faith in action in the service of others.
Nowhere is this more important than in your work with young people - where so many of your organizations have the capacity not only to help, but to inspire and to enthuse, by being unashamed about your beliefs, your commitment and your example, including the emphasis on mutual obligation and mutual support which animates your work.
People often ask what is the essential idea that binds together our policy on the NHS, schools, welfare and the economy. I say it is to recast the 1945 settlement on public services and welfare state for the modern age. To remain absolutely true to the principles of social justice and opportunity for all. But to recast it, so that what were often monolithic services, with only limited capacity to respond to individual circumstances in an individualized fashion, become far better-funded, better staffed and more diverse services, able to serve the needs of each individual citizen whether as a patient in the NHS, a pupil going through the school system, an unemployed person in search of a job or training, or an elderly person in need of long-term care and support.
Our aim is to put the citizen at the heart of each service. But that can only happen if the services themselves are equipped and motivated to respond. The voluntary sector, including the churches and faith communities, have a critical role to play in meeting community and individual needs in this new settlement.
In the post-1945 welfare state, the public and the voluntary sectors were too often in tension. There was a fear that more voluntary activity might mean a withdrawal of state support and a return to the pre-1945 world where often the only local welfare services were charities, providing patchwork services on a partial or discriminatory basis.
Our agenda is radically different. We are modernizing the 1945 settlement, not dismantling it. A withdrawal of state support for decent education, health, welfare and social services is emphatically not part of this government's policy, nor of the Labour party I lead. On the contrary, we are substantially increasing funding for the NHS and schools, and for other services to extend opportunity and security, recognizing the absolute obligations of government and society.
But money is not enough, however necessary. The only politics that works today is one based on partnership with the people. The days when government could "do it for people" are over. They can do it with people or not at all.
Government can't raise your family. Government alone can't get you a job. Government on its own can't, from Whitehall, run the NHS properly, look after the sick and elderly, educate the children in the classroom, mind them when you are at work. Parliament by itself can't police the streets, give the alienated youngster a place to go or a place to play.
We can help do these things. Government can enable it, fund it, help or hinder those taking on the task. But increasingly, the ultimate difference has to be made by the creativity, ability, and dedication of those on the ground working in partnership with central and local government. I see examples of this partnership all about us: from work with disaffected teenagers and ex-offenders to the extraordinary dedication of the hospice movement and the churches who directly manage and inspire so many of our schools nationwide.
By such partnerships trust is established; not through us promising what we can't deliver and you waiting for it to be done, but by us both working together to deliver what we can do together.
Likewise the only society that works today is also one founded on mutual respect, on a recognition that we have a responsibility collectively and individually, to help each other on the basis of each other's equal worth. A selfish society is a contradiction in terms. The challenge of modern society is this: unlike 70 or 80 years ago, when my father was a child, the majority today are relatively well off, but not everyone is. There is a significant minority set apart from society's mainstream, often passing on a life of poverty, hopelessness and alienation from one generation to another.
When we analyse child poverty we find, underneath the statistics, that there are some who may be poor, say, one year in three or four, some two, but some permanently locked in a cycle of disadvantage and deprivation. Children born into such a state often have very few role models to guide them; dysfunctional families unable to support them; a massive bureaucracy prepared to intervene when they become "a problem", but few people there to help them before they become a problem, to nurture and sustain their families, to give them the support they naturally lack.
We cannot call ourselves a fair or strong society until every one of our children, whatever their background, gets the chance to make the most of themselves, to lead a fulfilled life, to feel they are participating members of our community. Since 1997 we have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty towards our target of eradicating child poverty within a generation. This has taken significant investment - not only in greater financial support for families, but also in the design of wholly new services for children and parents such as Sure Start - a programme which has partnership with the voluntary sector at its core. We will see this through.
In the end, that is what trust in politics is all about. Bringing about change together. Creating a strong economy that allows everyone a chance of a job. Investing in education to help everyone fulfill their potential. Rebuilding the NHS so that need not wealth determines health care. Using the fruits of growth to help those in poverty. Trust is measured not in words but deeds.
As churches and faith organisations, you also play a significant role in the campaign against international poverty and injustice. Here too you are often direct providers of services. I pay tribute to the wide array of Christian and faith-based charities which work across the developing world, in difficult and often dangerous circumstances to bring relief, compassion and hope.
You make a difference by your action and your example. You also make a difference by campaigning for governments, here and abroad, to put trade, aid and debt at the top of their agendas.
The churches are among the most formidable campaigning organizations in history. I think of the campaign to abolish the slave trade, led by William Wilberforce with so many Christian organizations in support - culminating, after two decades of tireless persuasion in and beyond parliament, in the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British empire in 1807. 2007 marks the two hundredth anniversary of that great reform. The government enthusiastically supports the work of the churches not only to mark the bicentenary, but also to explain the legacy and highlight the great campaigns against injustice and poverty in our world today.
200 years ago slavery was the moral challenge. Today it is poverty, and faith leaders are in the forefront of the campaign to Make Poverty History.
Here in the UK we should be proud of the work of the churches; proud of the commitment of the British people, witnessed to such a remarkable degree after the tsunami catastrophe.
We can be proud too of our record as a country, and a government, in responding to the challenge of increasing aid and support for developing nations. Since 1997 we have doubled the aid budget, and tripled it for Africa, with £1bn in British aid to Africa this year alone. As well as our work on debt relief, the UK for the first time ever has a timetable for achieving the UN target of 0.7% of national income devoted to development.
But the UK cannot do this alone. That is why last week I launched the commission for Africa report. A bold and ambitious plan for Africa. A plan with a mission to build international support for changes that include the doubling of aid, 100% debt cancellation, trade justice and action on governance and conflict. A package that is deliverable, with international political will and determination.
We will only achieve this together.
I believe 2005 can mark a turning point for the international community. The year our eyes opened to the full reality of Africa: to the horror of its daily and preventable death toll; to the appalling misery of too many millions of its own people; to the hope that together we can change it; and to the practical measures necessary to do so.
I want to see a new partnership between rich and poor countries to improve governance, reduce conflict, increase aid, make trade fairer, and cancel debts to support the developing world. This will be a top priority for me personally at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July, in Britain's presidency of the European Union from July, at the UN summit in September and at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December.
So much of politics is about the daily grind of political business: the people to see, the myriad different facets of government, the remorseless agenda of this part of the media or that. And often all the public ever see is 20 seconds here or 20 seconds there, short sound bites, the greeting at the front door of dignitaries, brief glimpses in words or pictures of a politician's diary, but few insights into a politician's motivation.
At the heart of my politics has always been the value of community, the belief that we are not merely individuals struggling in isolation from each other, but members of a community who depend on each other, who benefit from each other's help, who owe obligations to each other. From that everything stems: solidarity, social justice, equality, freedom. We are what we are, in part, because of the other. I apply that idea here in Britain. I try to apply it abroad.
In early 21st century I believe it is not merely the right moral sentiment but enlightened self interest. I have tried to put it into effect these last eight years. There is, however, still much to do. Together we can do it.