Analysing The Political Economy

Why Is The Taxpayer Funding The Church of England Maintenance Program?

Humanists UK is a charitable organisation which promotes secular humanism and aims to represent “people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs” in the United Kingdom. Whilst they are activists in many areas such as education, human rights, equality and ethical issues, they make a very good point about religion in society.

Currently, the taxpayer is facing an eyewatering national debt pile. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has updated its latest report: “Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (debt) was £2,646.5 billion at the end of January 2024 and was provisionally estimated at around 96.5% of the UK’s annual gross domestic product (GDP); this is 1.8 percentage points higher than in January 2023 and remains at levels last seen in the early 1960s.”

So why is it that the taxpayer is expected to hand over £50 million each year for the upkeep of its own buildings when 80 per cent of the population has no real connection with church buildings? This is especially so when considering that the Church of England is effectively a business with a £10.3 billion investment fund and an annual income of over one thousand million pounds. Its effective market value would put the Church of England around the same value as pharmaceutical giant Smith & Nephew, Next plc and Energy giant Centrica.

Perhaps one reason would be its extraordinary lobbying arm with 26 unelected representatives in parliament.

The point here is that in the five-year period from 2015-2020, the Church of England received far more than £50m by taking £750 million of public money, which is four times the cost of fixing all school buildings in England. But for £50 million a year, the NHS could permanently employ 1,500 nurses – a far greater service to the country than some buildings.

The text below from Humanists UK outlines exactly these points, and when the government starts to consider tax cuts in its upcoming budget in an attempt to buy votes – perhaps one saving it could make is to ask the Church of England to stand on its own two feet like all other businesses do.


The National Churches Trust has said that at least £50 million per year is required from the public purse to keep churches open. Arguing that many churches are buildings with heritage value, it says that these costs should be met by public money.

It is true that some churches have historical significance – some are beautiful structures that have existed for many centuries, often containing impressive art. Many other secular properties, such as Ham House, an excellent example of Stuart architecture on the bank of the Thames, also have an impressive interior and extensive artwork and have enormous historical significance.

But there is a key difference between buildings such as Ham House and the churches mentioned in the Trust’s report. Ham House is managed by the National Trust, which does not receive any specific regular funding from the Government, yet is able to manage over 250,000 hectares of farmland, over 780 miles of coastline, and 500 historic properties, gardens, and nature reserves. The only funding that it may receive is through the Government’s competitive grant schemes. The National Trust for 2023 reported just over £1.5 billion in assets, by no means an insignificant amount, but somewhat paltry compared to the Church of England’s £10.3 billion investment fund.

The Church of England received £750m in public money from 2015-2020

The Church of England has already received significant amounts of public money: £750 million from 2015-2020. Despite its apparent pressing need to renovate churches, during 2017-2020, it spent £248 million on its ‘reform and renewal’ programme to attract new worshippers. This included £4.6 million on a brand new church in Bradford with a gym and cafe.

The report also calls for the NHS to ‘Make more use of churches and church halls to host public and community services, helping to upgrade facilities where needed.’ Religious buildings can very rarely be made inclusive and welcoming enough for a secular institution providing healthcare for all, but even if they could, we should not see our public healthcare system as a means of subsidising the upkeep and ‘upgrading’ of church-owned property rather than publicly owned buildings or community assets.

An enormously wealthy institution

The question of whether we should fund the repair of these churches is not a question of whether these buildings are historically significant or not. It’s whether an incredibly wealthy institution – with 26 unelected representatives in Parliament who are able to lobby on its behalf – should be given more public money to restore its assets because it would rather spend its own money elsewhere. At a time when local authorities are declaring bankruptcy, schools are collapsing due to unsafe concrete, and the public funding crisis in the NHS, our money would be much better spent elsewhere, and where it is spent it should be on assets we all own rather than the assets of a religious organisation with which 80% of us have no affiliation.



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