This petition asks the trustees of The Salvation Army Officers Pension Fund, a UK registered charity operating a non-contributory pension scheme, to provide all former Salvation Army officers (full-time ministers of religion) with a pension, not just those who remain as officers until retirement. The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson MP, has advised that the trustees can do this by presenting a petition to Parliament to amend The Salvation Army Act 1963.
The Salvation Army is one of the UK’s largest and most respected charities, a Christian movement which seeks the relief of poverty, offering its services without discrimination. But is the Salvation Army really being true to itself?
As well as providing spiritual care, Salvation Army officers are ordained and commissioned to undertake important leadership and management responsibilities which underpin the movement’s work among the poor and marginalised. They are also people who feel compelled to roll up their sleeves and offer practical help when it is most needed. As ministers of religion, officers are paid a small monthly allowance, but they are not regarded as employees in any legal sense and therefore do not enjoy the protection of employment law. This leaves them in a highly vulnerable position when things go wrong or trust is broken. Many officers have a spouse who is also an officer, which can make the situation doubly difficult if things go wrong. Sadly, there is a high dropout rate among officers, a very high proportion of whom resign before reaching retirement age. There are a variety of reasons for this, including ill health, family circumstances, disillusionment, mistreatment or even a crisis of faith.
In my own case, I resigned in 2011 as Director for Personnel in the north of England due to a breakdown of trust which followed on from my whistle-blowing on an important matter of principle. (My wife, also an officer, resigned at the same time for similar reasons). We continue to serve as Salvation Army volunteers in the city where we live but do not envisage becoming officers again. All serving officers live in rent-free furnished accommodation provided by the Salvation Army. In 2011 I was given a small resignation grant of £1378 to help secure accommodation, furniture etc and to help with living expenses until I gained employment, but was denied a pension when I reach pensionable age. My wife was also denied a pension.
The 1963 Act states that: "The pension fund shall be non-contributory and nothing in this Act shall confer any right on any officer or other person to receive or continue to receive a pension or a pension of any particular amount." Therefore the Fund is a Pension Fund in name only, since it has no members and the payments are according to rules which may be redefined at any point at the discretion of the Board. As a serving officer I had to ensure that sufficient funds were raised to make a substantial monthly payment into the fund, but these contributions were not linked to me as an individual. As this is the only pension scheme available to officers, it is entirely unfit for purpose in 2014 and has been for a long time. Effectively the Salvation Army has no true pension scheme for its officers only a charity that may or may not offer retirement allowances.
Having gladly given 23 years of my life to serve full-time with the Salvation Army in the UK and at a mission hospital in Zimbabwe (for 3 years) at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, I feel badly let down by the Salvation Army. My wife gave 32 years of full-time service, including 9 years as sister-in-charge of a leprosy hospital in India. Between us that amounts to 55 years of full-time service without a penny of pension to show for it. We have received much kind assistance from friends and family, but we know there are other former officers in a much worse situation.
In a half hearted attempt to address the problem, in 2013 the trustees agreed to provide some former officers with a retirement allowance, where resignation had been on or after 01 January 2007 and where at least 10 years service had been completed. This offer was later withdrawn on the grounds that the Charity Commission could not authorise a policy of making ex-gratia payments. The Commission did say, however, that allowances could be made to former officers within the Salvation Army’s charitable objects, i.e the relief of poverty. The Salvation Army has decided therefore to means test former officers when they reach pensionable age and only those who qualify for the government Pension Credit scheme will be entitled to a Salvation Army pension. The Commission’s suggestion that former officers can be treated as poverty-cases is entirely inappropriate, since the poverty will have been largely caused by the charity itself! This does not even begin to address the underlying moral question of why the dedicated service of a former officer should be looked upon differently to that of an officer who continues to serve until retirement. The latter will certainly not be means tested before receiving a pension! Currently there is an anomaly which means it is possible for someone to become an officer later in life, serve 10 years and retire with a pension and access to subsidised retirement accommodation. There are former officers who served as many as 35 years or more, but because they resigned before reaching statutory retirement age, they receive neither pension nor subsidised accommodation - this is discriminatory and ethically unacceptable. The Salvation Army is a very wealthy organisation. (In 2012/13 its income in the UK was more than £181m - as recorded on its annual return for the Charity Commission). It also has large investments and a vast property portfolio. It can afford to do the right thing!
Please sign this petition to support the cause of former Salvation Army officers. It is only the pressure of public opinion which will bring about a change for the better for this vulnerable group. The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, has offered his sympathy to the position which former officers find themselves in following many years of service for the charity but has confirmed that the Charity Commission has no power to intervene as long as the charity is acting within its governing document (in this case the Salvation Army Act 1963). In the past the Salvation Army has successfully sought amendments to the Act for other reasons, but not it seems in relation to pensions for former officers. This could be due in to a conflict of interest on the part of trustees, all of whom are senior Salvation Army officers who will become beneficiaries of the pension fund in due course. The Charity Commission are aware of this conflict of interest but have stated they are unable to challenge it as the conflict of interest has been authorised by the governing document.
The Salvation Army claims to be committed to supporting victims of modern slavery. Indeed it is responsible for delivering the UK government's contract to manage support services for adult victims of Human Trafficking. Imagine how it feels to be a Salvation Army officer who needs to withdraw from that role, for whatever reason, but knowing that doing so will cost you your security in old age. Whilst it cannot be equated to the suffering of a trafficked victim, it effectively amounts to entrapment. To me it feels like slavery.
In 2015 the Salvation Army celebrates its 150th birthday, but clearly there is still great need for cultural change, including a move away from cult-like behaviour and a dependency culture. Help make it a birthday to remember by encouraging this cherished organisation to really grow up, regain its integrity, and take its responsibilities seriously by living out its espoused mission to relieve poverty and stop discriminating against its former officers. This is morally and ethically wrong and needs to stop! If it doesn’t then donors may think twice before supporting an organisation that does a lot of great work but treats some of its former ‘workers’ with contempt in a manner which is both unkind and morally reprehensible.