Febuary marked World Interfaith Harmony Week, an opportunity to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith. The issue of faith can often be a difficult one for politicians to navigate. For some it may seem easier to ignore the enormous role that faith plays in so many people’s lives in case it risks favouring one religion over another or marginalising people of non-religious faith. I believe this approach is wrong on two fronts. Failure to engage with such an important area of many people’s lives illustrates a potential lack of confidence and it can also undermine efforts by policymakers to secure positive outcomes in society.

I am proud to have been a Patron of Haven House since it was established in my constituency 21 years ago. I have seen at first hand the vital importance of valuing people of all faiths and none in delivering palliative care. The history of Britain’s hospice movement has roots that are deep within faith. Dame Cicely Saunders, widely considered to be the modern day founder of the movement, was a person of deep religious conviction. Her vision to establish the UK’s first modern adult hospice in 1967, St Christopher’s hospice in Sydenham, was underpinned by her Anglican background. Dame Cicely had initially thought of creating an Anglican religious community home for the dying, but she broadened her vision so that St Christopher’s became a place that welcomed staff and patients of any faith or none.

Today, the principle of inclusivity remains essential for hospices. Haven House serves North and North East London, West Essex and East Hertfordshire, a vast diverse area encompassing several large religious populations. From 2014/15 the hospice supported 329 children and approximately one-third came from Muslim families. Haven House is among several hospices throughout the UK to have made commendable progress in strengthening its links with Muslim communities in recent years, but as illustrated by Hospice UK’s Bridging the Gap report published in October 2015, there is still room for improvement. Historically, Muslims have not tended to use hospices, for a variety of reasons, including cultural differences, language barriers and a lack of understanding of hospice care. Yet demographic and cultural changes will increase demand for hospice and end of life care for Muslim communities over the next decade and beyond.

Meet these challenges

According to the report, the number of Muslims aged 65 and over is increasing steadily and is expected to reach 250,000 before 2030; at the same time the number of babies, children and young people with palliative care needs is growing too. In order to meet these challenges hospices must continue to engage with Britain’s largest faith minority across all channels to ensure that palliative, language, cultural and religious needs are met.

As my Cabinet colleague, the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, outlined in an article in November, engaging with different community groups can also create new opportunities for hospices. In April last year, the Federation of Redbridge Muslim Organisations (FORMO) and its affiliates raised £10,000 for Haven House through a series of collections. Local mosques actively participated in the campaign by distributing leaflets to their congregations about the activities of the hospice as well as holding collections to raise funds.

But it’s not just one faith that hospices need to cater for; it is all of them. For example, a Hindu may wish to speak to someone who believes that they may return to this life, a Christian to someone who believes they may go to heaven and a non-religious person to someone who believes this is the one life we have. Figures from the ONS in 2011 showed that the London Borough of Redbridge, which includes part of my constituency, has one of the largest Sikh populations in the capital. Boroughs such as Barnet and Hackney are home to large Jewish populations and throughout all parts of the capital there continues to be a predominantly Christian population and a growing number of Buddhists.

The religious diversity of London can be seen within the work of hospices. Haven House is among several hospices to champion a multi-faith approach that can be witnessed at all levels. A variety of religious festivals are celebrated within the hospice and care is tailored to meet the spiritual, cultural and religious needs of individual families. Hospices also cater for people of non-religious faith. Non-religious patients will face the same fears, hopes, anguish, questions of meaning and purpose, sense of loss and bereavement as religious patients. Many people recognise a spiritual dimension to themselves without belonging to a faith group. The role of hospices in caring for people of all faiths and none represents the very best of an inclusive British society and is something to commend and celebrate.

Iain Duncan Smith is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green