Funding for the Poppy Project, which has been run for the past eight years by the secular charity Eaves Housing, is worth £2 million per year and will now be directed through the Salvation Army, which list one of its charitable aims as "to reach people with the Christian gospel through evangelism". As the BHA point out, the charity has previously told parliament that it would find it "impossible" to be "religiously neutral" in the provision of public service, while its website states that "The Salvation Army believes that homosexuality can be properly considered only in the broader context of a biblical understanding of human sexuality in general", which "treats such practices as self-evidently abnormal". Gay people are excluded from joining the Salvation Army, unless they are prepared to live "a lifestyle built upon celibacy and self-restraint".
The Salvation Army is quoted in the Guardian as saying that it will "provide holistic care for all those who come under the auspices of our care", but Naomi Phillips, head of public affairs at the BHA, sees the redirection of government funding from secular to religious hands as a worrying development:
"It is deeply concerning that the government has considered it appropriate to stop contracting with an organisation specialist in working with victims of sexual trafficking, motivated solely with regard to the well-being of those women, and handing over control of those services to a church motivated by a clear mission to evangelise.
"These services are provided for some of the most vulnerable women imaginable, who will now have little choice other than to have a service provider that is allowed by law to discriminate and proselytise in the way they provide that service, and which itself is vocal in its inability to remain religiously neutral, even when providing vital services. What is the government thinking?"The BHA's concerns reflect those it has expressed over the wider issue of the government's much-mailigned "Big Society" initiative, which it fears will lead to more and more funding for public services directed into the hands of religious organisations.
Staying with the subject of care for victims of sex trafficking, it's well worth returning to an article we carried in New Humanist in 2009 by Rahila Gupta, in which she contrasted the quality care being provided by Eaves Housing with that provided by a religious organisation, Churches Against Sex Trafficking in Europe (CHASTE), and warned against relying on unaccountable faith-based groups to protect the human rights of vulnerable women.
At the time, Gupta pointed out that there was already inadequate funding for secular charities in this area, leaving women with no option but to seek the assistance of religious groups like CHASTE and the Salvation Army. With the government's redirection of funds away from Eaves Housing this week, the situation appears to have become even less satisfactory.