Sunday Trading: The stability of families must not be sacrificed on the altar of profit


Today the Government consultation on Sunday trading closes. The Government is proposing to change the law, which already allows large shops to open for six hours on a Sunday, to allow Local Authorities and local Mayors to further liberalise Sunday trading.

Numerous Christian organisations, my own included, have raised concerns and urged their supporters to respond. In the minds of some this is a classic case of Christian advocacy charities fighting hopeless battles and chasing lost causes. Is this not just another example of the Christian church being out of touch, an outmoded organisation banging the age -old drum that things are not what they were and harping back to the "good old days"?

Let's face it, society has changed. More and more people need Sunday to shop because their lives during the week are so busy. Official reports tell us fewer and fewer people are going to church. The battle over Sunday trading was lost years ago, so what on earth is the point of going back to it now?

Far from being old fashioned, in opposing Sunday trading we are thinking about the future. What will life look like in five or ten years' time? We want a stable society where people care for each other, are productive and our children and young people are secure and most crucially, where people are free to worship. Commercially, although this is disputable, expanding Sunday Trading might make sense on the surface, but is in fact a very short-sighted strategy. To give in to these plans is in fact to take a backward step. Economic prosperity is a good thing, but the pursuit of profit must not come at the expense of family life. Our society flourishes most when suitable emphasis is placed on supporting the family as its bedrock.

The pursuit of profit must not come at the expense of family life.

Let's think about family life. Family breakdown already costs the exchequer £46 billion a year. Statistics show that 45 per cent of all British teenagers won't be sharing their 16th birthday under the same roof with both parents. Yet ask most people and they will probably say, as Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation has pointed out, that parenting is difficult and it takes two. As one very vocal single parent said in a radio debate with me "single parenthood is never a lifestyle choice." Children do better in a stable family environment and this demands time and effort. Relationships need time investment and to be proposing a policy where parents will not have time off in common is crazy. Even the Government's own guidance issued by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2014 stated "strong and stable families play an important role in our society. Families have a major impact on the life chances of individuals and strong family relationships are recognised as an important component of individual, community and national wellbeing." Where is the joined up thinking here? The stability of families must not be sacrificed on the altar of profit.

Then there is the threat posed to your religious freedom. Pressure may be brought to bear on employees to work, when otherwise they would want to be worshipping with fellow believers. In an increasingly secular country we give into these attitudes at our peril. Religious freedoms are easily lost if no one speaks up. There must be the freedom not to work. We must not sleepwalk into losing our religious freedoms.

We must not sleepwalk into losing our religious freedoms.

To do nothing because the battle was lost years ago is a dangerous mantra, and untrue. For years people have been arguing that the issue of abortion is done and dusted and yet in the past year we have witnessed the issues reinvigorated with debates in parliament on the issue of sex selection abortion and abortion on the ground of disability. Talks to devolve abortion to the Scottish Parliament could mean an opportunity to debate the issue there. And who would have thought that the repeated attempts to change the law on assisted suicide would result in the events of last Friday?

Sunday Trading may not be the most eye-catching moral issue of our day. The world will certainly not end if the trading hours for some shops are expanded. Yes the principle of Sunday trading was lost some time ago. But we are opposing this move because it will harm family life, negatively impact workers and present a threat to people's freedom to worship. Those are reasons enough to confidently say: we may have lost the war, but we are still going to fight this battle. If you care about the future of our society, you will sign the consultation and let your MP know for the very reasons I've outlined above, this proposal should be consigned the legislative scrapheap.

Nola Leach is the chief executive of CARE.