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How will the pandemic affect the UK’s poorest?

calendar30 March 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

How will the pandemic affect the UK’s poorest?

Everyone is trying to get their heads around what coronavirus, social distancing or isolation measures mean for them. It’s a surreal level of upheaval on many fronts. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking, ‘Is that headache I’ve got a symptom of stress or have I actually caught this virus?’ - it’s enough to give you a stressy headache. Whatever our own discomfort, it’s vital we look beyond, and remember how this will be for the most vulnerable in our society. So here, for prayer and consideration in your neighbourhood, is a rundown of the major issues we at Christians Against Poverty believe people will be facing. Once we all understand the issues better, we can begin to help more effectively.

Vulnerable people really need face-to-face contact 

The key issue will be support. Usually, people can call on friends or family or access face-to-face support from charities and organisations but this has been cut off due to social distancing. We’re concerned that people who are offline and very vulnerable will be even more under the radar than usual. Someone to hold your hand or give you a hug is more powerful than it sounds and an uplifting invite to church or an event can’t be replaced.

One in five of our clients have no access to the internet, either at home or on a phone. For them, there’s no Facebook or Whatsapp community to cheer them along. Loneliness is no small issue and we expect the Government to focus on this in the coming weeks. We’re hopeful that the amazing army of NHS volunteers and those neighbourly groups will be able to zero in on this group. We’re absolutely certain that the Church will be doing what the Church does best in all this - love and care. 

More than seven million people in the UK are functionally illiterate. Letters that arrive can be frightening and confusing. It’s a face-to-face encounter that brings much-needed clarity and peace… which brings us on to:

Accessing help

We’re glad that the Government and suppliers have made provisions for people in need but these rely on them knowing what’s on offer and how they can access it. Our experience tells us that instructions like ‘call your energy supplier’ will be difficult on several levels to frightened people whose trust of such companies might not be very high. Will they be able to hold the line and wait for the information and help they need? Again, reassurance from those on the ground is important.

While official help may be difficult, loan sharks and fraudsters might find this situation an easy market. Action Fraud is reporting a spike in people taking advantage of genuine need via false offers of help. Ensure the vulnerable people you know are aware of the dangers.

Poor mental health

This is commonplace among those we help and these clients especially, rely on face-to-face support and healthy distractions to keep them going. For many with poor mental health, day-to-day living was already fragile and full of anxiety, long before the coronavirus pandemic began.

Our experience at CAP tells us that people who are very stressed, or unwell don’t cope with extra admin tasks easily, finding it hard to open letters and fill in forms. All we can do as a society to support by phone, or practically where it is safe, will be invaluable. 

It’s also worth saying that it will be a testing time for those fighting addictions, without the accountability of supportive friends. Again, knowing this means we can ensure we can give people special attention.

Poor physical health

Many of our debt clients are likely to be self-isolating. Not many are over 70, but there are a large number of carers and a fifth of our clients are either seriously or terminally ill. We’re very concerned for our typically vulnerable clients with multiple complex needs. Nearly nine in ten were already socially isolated before CAP’s help and now, we can’t see them face-to-face. We know they will be finding this time hard.

Housing

Self-isolation is miserable but for many, a garden and comfortable home surroundings can bring comfort. Not so for the families in emergency accommodation with no cooking facilities or poor housing situations with no carpets, curtains or safe outside space. For families or for those in volatile relationships, these weeks will be very hard indeed. We are glad there will be no evictions for non-payment of rent over the next three months but we’re concerned there could be a wave of them after that.

Families

Being at home for longer periods with children to feed means more energy is required to heat and cook, more water is needed for essential hand-washing, etc. This will cause greater expenditure, while income will likely dry up because for many, no childcare means no paid work.

More than a quarter of our debt clients are single parents and without support or respite, the days and nights will seem unrelenting. Do you know a mum or dad at home alone? Give them a ring and let them know you’re thinking of them.

Work and income

Our experience at CAP is that low income coupled with an unexpected change in someone’s circumstances is what usually causes much of the debt we see. Now large proportions of people will be experiencing exactly that. 

Job loss or a reduction in working hours; companies folding; unstable temporary work; all this coupled with a likely global economic downturn, will mean charities like ours are going to be even more vital in the future.

What about the future?

It’s a sad fact that coronavirus is going to be making us very busy at CAP.  We fully intend to carry on bringing hope and restoration through our church-based service, helping people know they are loved in the tough months and years ahead. If you can help to support our work by regular giving, that would be absolutely wonderful. capuk.org/donate

Celebrating women this Mother’s Day

calendar18 March 2020

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Celebrating women this Mother’s Day

We don’t talk often enough about the amazing women of the Bible. We're regularly not given their names but time and again, we definitely know what they did, whether it's ‘The Woman of Samaria’ or the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet.

There are named men in the Bible who we know little about but Bible women are almost always included for doing something amazing. 

With Women’s World Day of Prayer just gone and Mother’s Day upon us, this blog is about celebrating some of these amazing Bible women.

Mary of Nazareth

Mary, Jesus’ mother is probably the most famous woman in the Bible. Many depictions of Mary show her as innocent, meek and obedient. If you look at what she takes on as the mother of Jesus, above everything, she was courageous.

Mary was told, as a young girl and a virgin, that she was going to have a baby that isn’t her fiance’s. She would know it would be a threat to her personal safety enough without knowing that the baby is going to grow up to be the Messiah. She knew the Messiah would go on to take on those in power. She knew her child would face up to that threat and, by extension, she would too. She knew how important it was and she bravely agreed to it.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth was Mary’s relative and, at a much older age, became mother to John the Baptist. He was another dangerous person to be parenting and ultimately John was beheaded for what he said. Elizabeth was brave too and incredibly kind and supportive because when a pregnant Mary came to visit her, possibly because she had no one else to run to, Elizabeth said:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

If Mary was worried about being a mother, this was exactly what she needed to hear! Elizabeth gave Mary a home and kept her safe for about three months so she really went above and beyond to support Mary.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ followers and in John’s account was the first person to see, at his grave, the resurrected Jesus. No one else was around because all the other disciples were hiding thinking they’d be killed next. That threat doesn’t seem to concern Mary in the same way and she becomes the first to know the most amazing news.

The Canaanite Woman

While Jesus had withdrawn away from the crowds, another unnamed woman, this time from Canaan, came to him asking for help for her demon possessed daughter and Jesus actually said something apparently rather cruel;

‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel...It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

The woman replied, ‘Yes it is, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’

Then Jesus said, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This is an impressive exchange. The woman answered in a way that is both wise and courageous. She stands up to him and wins, it’s important because, arguably, it’s partly this conversation that opens up Christianity to being a separate religion in its own right. It introduces the idea that God should be for everyone.

Take time to notice and appreciate the Bible women. Like many great women today, they are changing the world in small ways and big ways. Happy Mother’s Day to all the women in our lives.

How do we feel God’s peace at this time?

calendar17 March 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

How do we feel God’s peace at this time?

It's a strange time and it's bound to make us feel shaky. It's like something is happening to us that we have no choice about or control over. We haven't lived through anything quite like this before.

The Bible talks about fears and worries very openly. It doesn't say we won't have anything to be afraid or worried about. We are not expected to pretend these issues aren't there - it's important to acknowledge them, as the psalmists did. What it does make clear though, is to focus on God during these times. Whatever is going on, he is the unchangeable God who was, and is, and is to come. Is he trustworthy? Yes, completely. Will he help us and give us strength? Yes, he will. How much does he love us? More than we can imagine.

Corrie Ten Boom, who lived through the horrors of the holocaust, said,

'Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.'

We have another key bit of warfare up our sleeve to fight coronavirus: each other. Our actions and our words and our prayers count. A LOT.

Some will be feeling very anxious and we can either feed their anxiety or we can remind them of God's greatness. Let's keep our focus on him, while being mindful of how others are feeling. They may have more reason to avoid the virus than we know, for example, elderly parents, poorly children or have health conditions that aren't public knowledge. We can help them by being really careful with our hygiene, it's a service to them. If you're not a big handwasher - become one, for them.

Finding peace during this time is about striking the balance of not giving into fear but not being flippant or slapdash either. It's a serious situation. It will disrupt our lives for a while, there will be inconvenience, upset, but we have one serious God by our side. He is bigger than any here-today, gone-tomorrow virus - and he's no less good than before it hit.

There's a lot of peace to be found in thinking about others rather than focusing on our own comfort. This is a time when the Church is very much needed to be salt and light. What can we be doing to serve our neighbours, friends and those we worship alongside? Are we praying sufficiently for our Government at this time? We are their invisible back-up and the UK needs us, as does the world.

Sporting, theatre, music events and even church meetings are being cancelled. We are all going to have some free time we weren't planning on. Time to stop and appreciate each other and God. Let's use that for a Kingdom advantage.

How should we pray? Many are finding this from Pete Greig very helpful.

Ideas: 

When you're washing your hands repeat a Bible verse like Psalm 23, Romans 8:38 or the Lord's Prayer

Thank God for your hands, for all they are capable of and for others’ hands, especially the medical professionals, and all the work they do.

Remember that God is holding our hands through this time. He is holding us and we are holding onto him.

Ponder on Psalm 46 - say it outloud and until you believe it wholeheartedly.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.

Be still and know that I am God.

The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

His peace is the peace that passes all understanding. When nothing else makes sense - He does. He is our peace.

Six ways to bless others during the Coronavirus season

calendar16 March 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

Six ways to bless others during the Coronavirus season

It’s time for us to be:

Prayerful - take time with God and rest our future in the One who knows what’s ahead.

It’s time to pray for those in authority - they are having to make some hard decisions amid many pressures. It’s time to pray for the health and strength of our NHS workers. It’s time to pray for those who are sick. Our prayers are powerful so let’s talk about praying less and actually commit to do it more.

Salt and light - and show loving generosity rather than selfishness.

Fear is making people want for themselves and their families. It’s understandable, but not how we need to be. The world of the generous gets larger and larger (proverbs 11:24) as John Kirkby loves to remind us! We can favour others and be blessed in doing so.

How can we share the blessings/toilet rolls we have? Do we know our neighbours? Now is your opportunity to say, ‘Hello, it’s a bit of a strange time with this virus - here’s my number, give me a ring if you need anything, won’t you?’

Wise - and take on board the official advice and follow it.

In helping others, let’s be sensible remembering all the distancing and handwashing advice so we don’t put the NHS under unnecessary strain.

Fear is making many people angry and keen to blame others. This isn’t a time for finger pointing. We can be graceful and forgiving, even when we don’t agree.

Young people - now is your time to shine! As the least seriously affected group, your parents and grandparents may well need your skills. Do you know the basics, if you’re called upon to make some meals and put some washing on? Get a bit of practice in. Be ready to take lots of drinks to the doorway of any family member with a fever, they won’t want to come out of their room and put you at risk.

Hopeful - ready to celebrate and talk about the good around us.

Let’s find some courage through our knowledge that our God is in charge - not the virus.

God is no less good now than before the virus hit and is still as deserving of our praises. Focus on the good we see around us and share knowledge that builds one another up.

What will help us continue to connect with others at this time, even if remotely? Do we have phone numbers of people in our congregation? Can we use the internet to pray together or study the Bible or create a remote book club? Live streaming church looks like a great way to keep that message of hope flowing.

Thoughtful - in a way that says to someone, ‘I see your situation’.

It’s time for us to consider those who don’t have the finance or convenience of the internet, are fearful, unwell or whose job situation is fragile and those without a support network. For people who live with domestic violence, the days ahead might be very difficult.

Now is the time to offer shopping for older people or those with health issues who are scared to go out. Might they need prescriptions to be picked up, for example? Let’s make sure no one is overlooked on our street.

Neither be fearful nor flippant - it’s a serious situation but we will get through it.

Is there someone you know who is a regular carer for a relative? They may need a plan B for that relative, if the carer starts to get symptoms. Could you step in?

It’s a really good opportunity to honour our older or disabled friends. Not all the narrative has been helpful - they need to feel as loved and cherished as they really are.

Let’s not neglect ourselves in all this either. We must stay close to God and his word, he will lead us through the next few weeks. Psalm 46 is a great place to start.

The Chief Medical Officer’s team said that the virus does not survive outside very well. Perhaps we might spend some more time outdoors, appreciating creation and soaking up some time with God.

Above all, the peace of God is the peace that passes all understanding. When nothing else makes sense - He does. He is our peace.

A budget for the poorest?

calendar11 March 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

A budget for the poorest?

After years of cuts and austerity and talk of bringing down the national debt, this felt like something of a revolution! Here we had a new Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the first post-Brexit budget and a Government in its first term AND Coronavirus… it all seemed to result in a spending spree.

So, which bits of the budget do we at CAP think will benefit the poorest in the UK?

We’re really interested in the £500m hardship fund for local authorities to help economically vulnerable households. This was announced in a raft of measures to help people with Coronavirus. The Government is giving this for councils to use to provide Council Tax relief but, if large numbers of people contract the virus and may not get officially tested, it remains to be seen quite how this will be distributed. We know Council Tax is among the most frightening of debts for the people we help. So, this sounds very promising.

Following on from the announcement that the benefit freeze will end (which is something that has affected a lot of people for years) there was news on Universal Credit: Advances will, from October 2021, be able to be repaid over 24 months instead of 12. This will make a big difference to the people we help. However, we would continue to argue that the option of five weeks without any money to live on - or get into debt - is not a fair choice at all for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Deductions used to be made, up to a total of 40% of the standard allowance, then it went down to 30% and now it will be further reduced to 25% - which we feel is heading in the right direction. Universal Credit still takes time to arrive but at least now it will be slightly less diminished for those with outstanding debts or fines.

Low income workers will benefit thanks to the Chancellor raising the National Insurance bar from £8,362 to £9,500. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says this will release 500,000 people from this tax. People earning less than this each year, of course, will feel no affect.

The much campaigned-for Breathing Space for people in problem debt gets a welcome mention with an investment of an additional £12.5million for HMRC to get working on implementing it this year into next. This shows us that the Government is keen to see this up-and-running - and this is welcomed.

So, overall, a very different budget, with more detail to settle and be analysed in the coming days.




 

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