Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee report

The Rt Revd Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, spoke in the House of Lords on Monday 25 January during a debate on the report from the Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness.

My Lords, I welcome this key report on Intergenerational Unfairness and this debate – it’s a privilege to take part.

I would like to focus my contribution to this debate on three questions if I may.

The first is education and training. I welcome the report’s perspective and recommendations – as others have said, more relevant even now, but as we know, the landscape is shifting significantly beneath our feet, because of the immediate demands of the pandemic and the longer-term shifts likely in patterns of work caused by the fourth industrial revolution. We are sorely in need of creative, imaginative, cross-party and cross-society thinking on education for life, not simply for work.

I spent time last week listening colleagues whose role is to support over 280 Church of England schools across the Diocese of Oxford, responsible together for the education of almost 60,000 children.

They reported the extraordinary creativity and commitment of heads, teachers and governors. They also report that morale and energy are absolutely at rock bottom now in our schools. So will the government act to restore and build up the morale of the teaching profession at this moment? Will teachers be prioritised in the vaccination programme to enable schools to begin onsite teaching again more widely? And will the government act to bring together the best minds of the day to focus on the challenge of all-age education through a Royal Commission or similar?

The second is the changing world of work and the rise of the gig economy. Many gig workers in our own country are without rights, disproportionately affecting young adults. The proportion of the workforce in zero hours and gig work is increasing. Low-paid workers in the UK are more than twice as likely to lose their jobs in the pandemic. The government has accepted the need for a Good Work plan and has committed to legislate to improve the clarity of employment status. The need is more urgent now than a year ago. Yet there is still no new Employment Bill and no apparent progress to remedy a situation which is becoming worse month by month.

My third area is that of all-age communities, where I welcome the survey and recommendations and especially the part played in the report by the people of Doncaster, part of my former diocese of Sheffield.

However, both the report itself and the government response seem to me to be blind to the impact of the churches and faith communities in building all-age social capital across communities. The value of services and support that church buildings own provide and the health and well-being they create has been calculated at 12.4 billion per annum. Churches are involved in running more than 35,000 projects before COVID, including food banks, parent and toddler groups, night shelters and breakfast clubs. Mosques, synagogues and gudwaras are making a similar contribution within and across generations.

So will the authors of the report and the government give greater recognition to the vital role that faith communities play in the social fabric of the nation as builders of intergenerational fairness?

Watch Bishop Steven speaking in the debate and follow Bishop Steven on Facebook.