Churches lead the way in fighting poverty and debt

We look at the way Christians are helping people fight the scourge of debt

Never just a number, a report recently released by the London School of Economics (LSE) evaluated the impact of a holistic approach to UK poverty.

The LSE Housing and Communities report for Christians Against Poverty (CAP) concluded that a major driver of CAP’s work is its strong ties with the church.

CAP, a charity specialising in debt counselling for people in financial difficulty, partnered with the Housing and Communities research team at the LSE for 12 months, with the aim of describing, quantifying and monetising the impact of their work and measure the social impact of their services.

The independent report reviewed the wider social impact of Christians Against Poverty and its partnering churches – and valued it at £32 million a year.

“Some would argue,” it says of its ties to the church, “that this is a decisive factor”, although it points out that while CAP is required to make explicit the faith that underpins its mission, avoiding any sense of requiring clients to share this faith is critical.

The report explains that churches in general are ‘long-established community anchors’ that are widely trusted to be on the side of helping communities, even among people who are sceptical of their purpose.

A recent Church of England survey found that 13,000 churches surveyed are responsible for 33,000 social action projects in the UK.

As the report highlights, over half of the clients who contact CAP escape debt, making their success rate of 52 per cent among all 12,618 clients.

It explains that many CAP clients join in church activities and become churchgoers in order to be part of a trusted, friendly and accepting community.

“This helping image means that isolated, struggling and sometimes despairing people are open to seeking help through CAP centres,” the report explains.

CAP staff and volunteers are all committed members of the church, and for them, the report explains, ‘faith often underpins the most practical, hands-on forms of help’.

It says that this combination is possibly ‘a unique distinguishing feature of the CAP approach’.

The faith-based methods of CAP are underpinned by the wider services that CAP centres provide and organise — including social events, support and advice groups, lunches, parties, and opportunities to go on breaks.

Another unique approach, it explains, is that development of longer-term friendships facilitated through the wider faith-based community encourage and strengthen people’s resolve to stay debt-free.

More importantly, it says, they reconnect often isolated people with their local community.

As the report points out, little is known about what happens to the CAP clients who renege on CAP’s debt relief plan or simply fall out of touch. It explains that some take back control and decide to sort things out for themselves, some are referred on to other agencies, but many simply disappear and nothing is known of their outcomes.

CAP accepts donations and people can donate to their appeal this year to give families a Christmas food hamper, but if you would like to take another step, CAP offers the CAP Money Course.

The money management course gives delegates the opportunity to learn skills that have a lasting impact on their finances. It is designed for anyone who wants to take control of their finances, and allows a person’s church to have a significant impact for relatively little effort and cost.

CAP provides all the training and course materials, including workbooks, a DVD, online budgeting tools, and ongoing support for coaches from their dedicated team at head office.

In order to run the CAP Money Course, churches will need will need to find volunteers to attend a regional training day to become a trained CAP Money Coach.

Churches can book a CAP speaker for a Sunday service, which includes a regular giving aspect. They will provide a 20-40 minute inspiring sermon about the‘biblical response to God’s heart for the poor in the neighbourhood’, including real life testimonies from CAP’s latest film.

The talk is designed to inspire about the CAP Money Course and encourage people to attend the course and to invite others to join them. The launch talk will also inspire congregations about the wider work of CAP, giving them an opportunity to provide prayerful and financial support.

For £20 a month churches can train three coaches each year, with a resource allowance of up to £70 a year and free student, youth and kids bolt-on packs (the values of the total bolt-ons are: £110).

There is also a basic bundle. For a £45 one-off fee CAP will train one volunteer from a church to be a CAP Money Coach (and £45 per additional person trained). Resources can be purchased through the CAP Money online shop.

There are also courses tailored for kids, youth, and students. The youth course, for example, is designed to be a practical and engaging workshop for 14-16-year-olds that teaches young people how to identify income and expenditure, and how to build a balanced budget so that they can live within their means.

They say this is the first step towards giving young people the tools they need to avoid the pitfalls of money management.

Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Just Finance Foundation (JFF) called on the Government to make financial education in primary schools compulsory.

In their written submission to the Department of Education’s consultation on changes to the teaching of Sex and Relationship Education and PSHE, they explained that they would like to see financial education receive the same attention as sex and relationships education, explaining that financial education is vital to adult life in a society where 40 per cent have less than £100 in savings.

They explain that money is a subject that parents and carers find difficult to discuss with their children, citing evidence that only one in five KS1 pupils said they talk about money at home, while research has shown that habits and attitudes to money are already developing at the age of seven.

In their response to Government’s consultation on draft guidance for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education the Church of England Education Office said they are disappointed that personal social health and economic (PSHE) education has not been made statutory.

They say this will result in financial education being squeezed out of the school timetable and that the decision ‘appears to run counter to the other government priorities on increasing social mobility and integrated communities’. This makes financial courses such as those run by CAP ever more relevant.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, continues to campaign against ‘Britain’s growing debt trap’, which they describe as low wages, insecure work, welfare cuts and rip-off lending. The charity says these are driving mental health problems, homelessness and family breakdown, and sinking poor families and communities deeper into poverty.

Earlier this year a chain of schoolchildren circled around Southwell Minster to raise awareness of the campaign, highlighting the inextricable link between generations for financial education and justice.

Frank McKenzie, coordinator of Churches Together in Southwell, commented that the importance of children ‘is simply the fact that they are the ones who will have to suffer the consequences of our failure to resolve the problem of worsening global inequality; conflicts around the world and massive movements of peoples is in no small measure the result of the desperation of ever larger numbers of poor people in developing countries’.

“If we are unhappy about the impact of this in our lives now, it is nothing to the effect it will have in these children’s lives,” he commented.

Meanwhile, the Rev Peter Hibberts, Minister for Elston, North Muskham, Southwell and Sutton on Trent Methodist Churches drew our attention to the great work that churches can do in this area.

“It is important to acknowledge that this is not an exclusively Christian issue, campaign or event. Debt justice is relevant to those of all faiths and none – after all who wouldn’t want the world to be a fairer place.

“However, as a church community in Southwell we feel strongly about freedom and justice and it’s great that the Church can take a lead on this and that the Minster can be a focal point.”