Bishops: Supreme Court has failed to protect basic freedoms.

Scotland's Catholic Bishops have hit out at a decision that will ban peaceful prayer vigils and offers of help for women outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland.

The UK Supreme Court last week cleared the way for Northern Ireland to introduce 'buffer zones'  outside clinics.

Responding to the decision the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland (BCOS) urged members of the Scottish Parliament to support “the expression of longstanding rights and the principle of reciprocal toleration”.

They point out that, were the Scottish Parliament to pass such a law, it would have “a chilling effect on freedom of speech and assembly in a country which has long valued both”.

BCOS - Statement on Supreme Court Decision

The recent decision of the UK Supreme Court on the Northern Ireland buffer zone case is very concerning. It is a decision which fails to protect basic freedoms of expression and freedom of assembly.

It will no doubt embolden efforts to criminalise peaceful vigils in Scotland.

A proposal has already been put forward by an MSP which would prohibit ‘occupying’ space around abortion facilities and introduces areas of Scotland where prayer would become illegal.

Were the Scottish Parliament to endorse such a law, it would erode hard won freedoms and fundamental rights.

Criminalising citiziens for no more than occupying a specific location with the threat of imprisonment of up to six months for a first offence and up to two years for subsequent offences, would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and assembly in a country which has long valued both.

Silent Peace vigils outside the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane have been a regular occurrence for decades and have enjoyed wide support, universally considered to be benign expressions of deeply held convictions.

Vigils outside abortion facilities should be afforded the same protection.

Evidence of their peaceful nature is seen in the fact that they have not led to any arrests or convictions.

As Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh points out, “Many mothers in crisis have felt supported at the last minute by a sensitive offer of practical help to find a way out of their crisis other than by ending the life of their unborn baby, it is perfectly reasonable to want to reach out in compassion to help vulnerable women and to be free to protect the life and well-being of both a mother and her unborn child.”

We would urge members of the Scottish Parliament to support the expression of longstanding rights and the principle of reciprocal toleration.

Cost of Living Crisis: available support

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting everybody, but its most severe effects are being experienced by the poor and marginalised.

In March churches in Scotland released a joint statement which urged “both the Scottish and UK Governments to set aside political differences and come together in a spirit of pragmatism and compassion to seek effective solutions” to the cost-of-living crisis.

More recently, Archbishop William Nolan, Archbishop of Glasgow, called on the UK Government to give an assurance that benefits will go up in line with inflation.


Through her Preferential Option for the Poor, the Church gives a special form of primacy to the poor and marginalised as the focus of particular concern, especially during uncertain and difficult economic times.

The responsibility for this concern rests with society as a whole, though government has a special responsibility given its position of influence.

Overall inflation, including the cost of food, has increased significantly in recent months. Several factors have caused this increase, not least Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and disruptions to supply chains caused by the pandemic.

Whilst global food prices have eased recently, it will take time for this to filter down to supermarkets and the situation in Ukraine remains volatile.

The rising cost of fuel is also a source of deep worry for people. In August, it was announced that the energy price cap would be raised by 80 per cent in October, increasing the typical household bill to around £3,549 per year.

A further increase was expected in January and April 2023, with average energy bills reaching as high as £6,500 a year.

The energy price cap limits how much energy suppliers can charge domestic consumers on variable tariffs for their fuel. It is set by the independent regulatory authority for gas and electricity, Ofgem.

Energy Price Guarantee

The UK Government has committed to limiting the cost of electricity and gas through the Energy Price Guarantee until April 2023. This will take a typical bill from £1,971 per year to £2,500 per year. Whilst this will still be challenging for many households it is a welcome reduction from the £3549 previously expected.

Below we set out the support currently available from the UK and Scottish Governments, including weblinks. Please note this list is not exhaustive and is subject to change. Further information is available on both government websites.

Citizens' Advice Scotland

If you are worried about the cost-of-living crisis and would like more help, Citizens’ Advice Scotland offers advice and support.

Money Saving Expert website

Please also be aware that other local advice and support services may be available in your area. For example, local charities, including many churches and faith organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, offer support via food banks and additional services for health and well-being. The MoneySavingExpert website is also a useful source of information.

Warm Welcome UK

Over 2,500 organisations have registered with Warm Welcome UK to open up ‘warm hubs’, free, warm, welcoming spaces, during the winter months. Click the link for more information.

UK Government Support

Cost of Living Payment

A cost-of-living payment is available for those in receipt of any of the following benefits: Universal Credit, income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income support, pension credit, child tax credit, working tax credit.

Those eligible may be entitled to a payment of £650, paid in two lump sums of £326 and £324, paid separately from benefits.

The cost-of-living payment will not be made if you are in receipt of New Style Employment & Support Allowance, Contributory Employment & Support Allowance, or New Style Jobseekers’ Allowance, unless you get Universal Credit.

If you have a joint claim with a partner, you will receive one payment of £326 and one payment of £324 for your joint claim, if you are entitled.

Please check here for more information, including expected payment dates.

Disability Cost of Living Payment

You may receive a lump sum payment of £150 if you are in receipt of any of the following: Attendance Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance for Adults, Disability Living Allowance for Children, Personal Independence Payment, Adult Disability Payment, Child Disability Payment, Armed Forces Independent Payment, War Pension Mobility Supplement.

Please check here for more information.

Pensioner Cost of Living Payment

If entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment for Winter 2022/2023 you will get an extra £300 in November 2022. This is in addition to the Cost-of-Living Payment you get with your benefits or tax credits.

Please check here for more information.

Energy Bills Support Scheme

The Energy Bills Support Scheme provides a £400 non-refundable discount to eligible households to help with energy bills over the 2022/2023 winter. Around 99 per cent of households are eligible. The remaining 1 per cent will receive equivalent support.

The discount will be applied to the monthly household electricity bill for six months, starting in October 2022 (£66 in Oct and Nov, and £67 in Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar).

Prepayment meter users will get equivalent vouchers which need to be redeemed.

More information on support available from the UK Government can be found here.

Scottish Government Support

Scottish Child Payment

The Scottish Child Payment of £20 per week is available for each child under 6 years and for those in receipt of certain benefits or payments. This payment will be increased to £25 per week for every child under 16 years of age from 14 November 2022.

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods

These are payments to help towards the costs of being pregnant or looking after a child.

Scottish Welfare Fund

This fund provides grants to those age 16 or over on a low income or receiving certain benefits. The Crisis Grant helps people with unexpected emergencies such as a fire, flood or losing your job. The Community Care Grant helps you or someone you care for to start to live, or to carry on living, a settled life in the community. For more information on all Scottish Government benefits, please visit here.

This article is from the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office and can be found on its website.