Giving more responsibility for delivering public services to local faith charities as part of the big society agenda could result in increased discrimination against marginalised groups, according to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
In a submission to the Public Administration Select Committee, which will start holding oral hearings for its inquiry into the big society agenda next week, the organisation warns: "Whilst the churches and other faith groups have always been active in the big society, we have concerns that some religious groups that seek to take over public services, particularly at local level, could pursue policies and practices that result in increased discrimination against marginalised groups, particularly in service provision and the employment of staff."
Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, told Third Sector he was concerned that gay and lesbian public sector staff who were moved to local faith charities under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations might face discrimination by other staff at those charities.
His submission to the PASC says: "Non-religious people and those not seen to confirm to the dominant ethos of a religious body, such as being in an unmarried relationship or divorced and being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, could find themselves subject to discrimination.
"Contracts should therefore only be awarded to faith-based organisations that have a public commitment to, and can demonstrate compliance with, the promotion of equality in line with the commitment of recent governments."
The submission says Unitarians have "an historic and ongoing commitment to the provision of services on a non-sectarian basis".