Thursday, 17 September 2015

A Parish Share Approach to Funding the Refugee Crisis?

Just thinking aloud...

Obviously, one of the major problems in practical terms with large numbers of refugees is paying for them to live. Fear of how much this will cost is a major issue in the discussions over open borders and resettlement. Even if they are settled in refugee camps, as they are in large numbers in Jordan and elsewhere, someone has to pay for the tents, the infrastructure, the schools, the medical care, the toilets, etc.

But particularly in Europe, there is the additional factor that the southern countries of Europe bear the greatest costs, as they are nearest. Greece, Italy, Spain - not the wealthiest of European countries - are on the front line. Understandably, they resent more northerly countries like the UK standing back with our arms crossed and saying it is nothing to do with us as the refugees reached them first so are their responsibility.

I wonder if the financial model of the Church of England could have something to offer?

I don't mean so much the 'charity economy', but the Parish Share system. This works in various different ways in different dioceses, but basically the idea is that costs are shared across all the parishes. The total bill for a diocese (mainly clergy stipends and pensions, with a few additional central costs, training and so on) is reckoned up, and then parishes each contribute as they are able. In some places this is shared out on a 'taxation' system, but in the dioceses that I know best, Durham and Newcastle, a voluntary offer system has worked best.

When I was in Newcastle diocese, the system was that the amount was divided between clusters of parishes who then got together, looked at each others finances, and decided between themselves what was the fairest way to divide the amount asked for. In Durham a couple of years ago, Bishop Welby startled everyone by proposing an even more radical solution: parishes would simply offer what they felt was right! The total has gone down - meaning some things have had to be cut - but not by as much as some people feared, and morale in the parishes in relation to their giving has shot up.

Parish Share is a system that means that rich parishes subsidise parishes in poorer areas. Some rich parishes don't like this, of course, and try to wriggle out of their obligations. But overall, the system is a wonderful expression of the commitment of the Church of England to being one body, providing ministry and worship to all who live in this country, without reference to the wealth or resources of the particular area in which they live.

So maybe something similar could work across the European Union, to fund the refugee crisis? After all, this is clearly not a one-nation issue, and it seems very unfair for a disproportionate burden of costs to be allocated purely according to geography.

Maybe the Church of England's Parish Share system is the answer? Could the UN or EU add up all the estimated costs of caring for the refugees, and invite bids towards it? The money given could then be allocated back to the countries in proportion to the number of refugees there.

Ideologically, I guess that if you don't want to express the view that Europe is united, you won't like this idea. But without any coercion or 'centralisation' (after all, the Parish Share system is essentially voluntary - bishops have far less power than people often imagine!), this could be a way of expressing the essential unity of humanity that the people of all European countries have been very clear about in recent weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment