This week’s Church Times reported “Clergy living comfortably“. However, my eye was caught by the paragraph that suggested all was not quite as well as the headline suggested.
Overall, about three-quarters of respondents indicated that, financially, they were “living comfortably’ or “doing all right’. Eighty-two per cent of ordained respondents were able to draw on other sources of income than that received for ministry. Those unable to do so were “much more likely to struggle financially’, with several reporting dependency on tax credits and benefits.
It took a while to track down the report, which appeared to be referenced neither in the CT report, nor on the C of E website in any obvious place. It turns out the project is on one of the many proliferating branded sites.
The material there says much the same: first, from the executive summary:
Ordinands report lower levels of financial wellbeing than ordained ministers, while higher levels of financial wellbeing are associated with ministers who are older, part-time, self-supporting and assistant/associate ministers.
Then, from the report:
While most ministers do not report that they are finding life difficult financially, the majority (82% of ordained respondents) are able to draw on personal or household income in addition to anything they receive for their ministry. The minority without additional personal or household income are far less likely to be able to save or to have adequate provision in place for retirement.
It is not entirely clear, at least to this reader with limited skills in statistics, exactly how the different figures relate. Nonetheless, it seems fairly clear there is a correlation between the numbers who find themselves struggling financially, and the numbers of those who are in receipt of the stipend as their only income.
Officially, the Church of England’s stance on the stipend is that it is not a graded or job-related salary, but a sum of money sufficient to live on, without needing to seek paid employment. That has always been partially contradicted by the reality that bishops, deans, archdeacons and canons appear to need more to live on than mere parish clergy. Why they need a higher stipend rather than a more generous expense account has always been something of a mystery to me. It is, at the least, hard to defend against accusation of hypocrisy.
This new research, however, goes further. It suggests that for whatever reason (and I suspect the reasons are complex) there are a significant number of clergy, dependent solely on the stipend, for whom it is not living up to its billing. It does not provide a sufficient sum for them to live on without making economies or enjoying supplements – whether a spousal income, private means, previous employment or state benefits.
This is not the only difficult question that comes out of these initial findings, but it does seem to me to be a rather important one. Is the stipend any longer doing what it says on the tin? If not, why not, and what is anyone going to do about it?
I commend the researchers for honestly asking the questions. I hope others will reflect on what action should follow.