It is time for a new deal for underpaid clergy

Jun 16, 2024 by

by Philip North, Church Times:

A culture of low remuneration and overwork can be addressed only by more funding at a national level.

ARE we at risk of exploiting our priests? That is the stark question that many of us have had to start asking ourselves in recent months, as the reality of the impact of the eroding remuneration package for the stipendiary clergy becomes ever clearer.

The rationale of the clergy stipend is important. Priests are not paid for a set number of hours of work: they are offered a package that enables them to minister for Christ full-time, without the need for secular employment. Our clergy are gifted, highly educated, and enormously dedicated. Most would command high salaries in the workplace, and they and their families have made genuine sacrifices to minister. And yet the remuneration package has become seriously eroded.

Measured against the Retail Price Index, the stipend has decreased by 28 per cent, in real terms, since 2009. Even measured against the Consumer Price Index, the decrease is nine per cent. The replacement of working tax credits with Universal Credit has also hit clergy income; some families have lost many thousands of pounds as a result.

Stipends are agreed by each diocesan board of finance (DBF), and so the inequalities in diocesan finances are leading to increasing stipend disparities between dioceses, because those with no historic wealth struggle to keep up with racing inflation. It seems unthinkable that the income that the clergy receive should be contingent on the inherited assets of the diocese that they serve; and yet that seems to be a situation that we are happy to accept.

Decent housing is another part of the package. Yet property departments have often borne the brunt of cuts to DBF budgets. This has lowered the quality of the housing that is on offer: some clergy families complain about long delays for basic repairs, and stretched property teams struggle to keep up.

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