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Dear Members,

My apologies.  This revised version of the Weekly Briefing inserts corrected links for the events at the end of the Briefing.
 
Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs James Somerville-Meikle writes:
 
This year started much like 2020 ended – waiting for a press conference at No 10 Downing Street to hear the latest restrictions being introduced to tackle coronavirus. The announcement from the Prime Minister about going back into lockdown looked and sounded remarkably similar to the same address he made in March last year. There were, of course, a number of important differences this time around, not least the exemption for places of worship in England to remain open. This is something the Catholic Union had called for and is very welcome news. Sadly, you don’t have to look far to find journalists, and even politicians, who have been critical of this decision and who have called for places of worship to close. In defence of churches remaining open, Bishop John Sherrington said “This decision is based on two factors: the recognition that our churches are safe, and that the service they offer is essential.” Highlighting the safety and essential nature of our churches is something the Catholic Union will continue to do.
 
COVID-19
 
Mixed picture for places of worship across the UK. In England and Wales, places of worship are able to remain open for private prayer and worship. Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “I’m glad that no measures have been introduced that would obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good. Catholic parishes will continue to serve the needs of their local community”. But in Scotland, all churches on the mainland have been forced to close for private prayer and worship. In Northern Ireland, church leaders – including the Catholic Church and Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland – have agreed to suspend public worship until early February.
 
And in London… Churches remain open despite a call from London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to close all places of worship in response to his decision to declare a “major incident” in the capital as Covid infections and hospital admission reach new highs. Bishop John Sherrington issued a letter explaining the position and role of our churches during the current lockdown.
 
Catholic Union calls for evidence for Scottish church closures. The Catholic Union has called on the Scottish Government to publish evidence for its decision to close places of worship again. Scotland is the only part of the UK where churches have had to close by law. In a letter to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, the Catholic Union said it was extremely concerned about the decision to close churches for private prayer and worship as part of new lockdown measures in Scotland. The letter from Catholic Union President, Sir Edward Leigh, calls for any evidence of churches contributing to the spread of the virus in Scotland to be presented to the Scottish Parliament.
 
More support for victims of domestic abuse. The new Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has called on the Government to guarantee funding for organisations supporting victims as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill. After months of waiting, the Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Lords earlier this week. Ms Jacobs said that demand for services supporting victims of domestic abuse “will only increase” as a result of this new national lockdown.
 
Government accused of being slow to act on homelessness. The Government has so far resisted calls to restart the Everyone In scheme, which helps to get many people off the street in the first lockdown.  The Government has provided £700 million of homelessness funding since the March 2020 lockdown, but has been accused of being slow to act in responding to the needs of homeless people during this new lockdown. Paul Noblet, from charity Centrepoint has urged the Government to make “a fully-resourced return to the initiative” to help rough sleepers endure the harsher weather and the surge in coronavirus cases.
 
Calls to further extend the eviction ban.  Labour MPs and charities have pressed the Government to extend the eviction ban, which is due to end next week. Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said the most recent extension to the ban on evictions would be the last, but he is coming under increasing pressure to protect those who face the threat of eviction as the new lockdown comes into force.
 
DOMESTIC ABUSE
 
Insight from Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Nicole Jacobs has discussed how she sees her role, as she becomes the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, in an interview with the Guardian.  “My view of the role is to advise government but never step back from applying pressure. My job is to bring things to light” says she. Full interview here.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
 
New champion for religious champion. Fiona Bruce MP was appointed as Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief at the end of last year. The Catholic Union welcomed the appointment, along with charity Aid to the Church in Need.
 
Also from Aid to the Church in need… Lord Alton, a former President of the Catholic Union, is trying to get an amendment passed through the House of Commons which prevents the UK signing trade deals with genocidal states and creates a mechanism within the UK High Court to make a preliminary determination of genocide. More information can be found here.
 
HOMELESSNESS
 
Children with no place to call home. Data from the Ministry of Housing revealed that the number of children without a permanent home rose by 75 per cent in the last decade (from 72,590 in the second quarter of 2010 to 128,200 in the first quarter of 2020). Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said “These figures show there was an unacceptable rise in the number of families experiencing homelessness even before Covid-19 hit, and we know the pandemic has hit private renters hard.”
 
Return of the Everyone In scheme? Labour MP and Chair of the APPG for Homelessness has called on the Government to learn the lessons of 2020 for ending homeless. He uses an article in Westminster’s House magazine to call for the Everyone In scheme to be brought back. The Government has resisted calls to bring back this much praised scheme. Could this be the next U-turn for the Government? Full article can be found here.
 
Scotland shows a way forward on tackling homelessness. Dr Lígia Teixeira, Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, discusses the next steps towards Housing First in Scotland. The Housing First model has been praised by charities across Europe as an efficient way to tackle homelessness. Full interview with Holyrood magazine can be found here.
 
MIGRATION
 
Charities demand to know nationalities of people deported. The Information Commissioner’s Office is examining whether the Home Office was right to refuse to publish data under a Freedom of Information request on the nationalities of foreign nationals deported in the past five years. Commenting on the Home Office’s refusal, NGOs working with migrants said that releasing the data would help build greater confidence in the system.
 
Christmas message from the Jesuit Refugee Service. In his Christmas Blessings, Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr Tom Smolich has invited us to “stand hand in hand as a global community, and care for the most vulnerable”.
 
ALSO…
 
Charity Commission boss gives interview. Speaking to Civil Service World, head of the Charity Commission, Helen Stephenson has explained how “charities’ work saves, sustains and enriches life in countless ways”.
 
For those in peril on the sea. On Sea Sunday (20 December), Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) remembered seafarers who have been separated from their families as a result of the pandemic and who were away from home this Christmas. Please consider supporting the charity.

Sunday 10 January at 4pm
Poverty and the Pandemic in Oxford.  An online panel discussion to discuss the impact of the pandemic on people experiencing poverty in Oxford organised by the Blackfriars Poverty in Britain Group in partnership with the Las Casas Institute. For more details see here.

Tuesday 26 January at 7pm
"Are Science and Religion Compatible?”. The Thomistic Institute at the University of Edinburgh presents an online lecture by Fr. Michael Dodds, O.P. of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.  To register see here.

There are many other interesting events organised by the Thomistic Institute (usually on a different time zone in the US).  For full details, see here.
If you’re a Catholic charity, or if you work in parliamentary/public affairs, and you would like us to flag specific items in this newsletter, please send the information to: info@catholicunion.org.uk
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