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Do you know what poverty looks like?

calendar21 March 2019

Claire Cowles's avatar Claire Cowles

Do you know what poverty looks like?

Claire Cowles is our Communications Manager, passionate about seeing justice and freedom for those who have the biggest battles on their hands.

I’ve not been out to film with a client of ours for a while, so despite the four-and-a-half hour journey to Kent being an uncomfortable prospect at seven months pregnant, I was pretty keen to be interviewing Tina the next day.

We drove onto a pretty nice, spacious new build estate that didn’t ‘look’ like the stereotypical image of UK poverty. When we turned into Tina’s street, suddenly the feeling of space and luxury was gone – basic brick built terraces were crammed together in one cul-de-sac. Nobody on the estate would have reason to ever look at this corner, unless they lived here. Even the way housing estates are laid out contributes to the way UK poverty remains hidden from view, leaving people isolated.

We knocked on the door and waited. Tina’s face greeted us and what struck me immediately was the depth of life you could physically see in her eyes. She was smiling, welcoming, friendly and whilst I knew what I was seeing was genuine joy, I also knew it was preceded by a life of unimaginable difficulty. You see, Tina’s life makes anything I’ve thought was difficult seem like an absolute breeze. I felt an immediate sense of privilege to be standing in this lady’s house.

A survivor of life-long domestic abuse, Tina was living with clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia and a crumbling hip. Just before contacting CAP, she was on suicide watch. On describing how she fled her abusive relationship, her words to me were ‘I left that relationship with nothing. Well, nothing apart from the debts.’ And so we see how she eventually connected with CAP.

Tina is an example of what vulnerability truly looks like amongst those living in UK poverty. Our latest report Stacked against  has uncovered that the term ‘vulnerability’ represents something inconceivably more complex than perhaps we realise. We’ve discovered that families experiencing bereavement are almost twice as likely to fall prey to fraud or financial abuse, and that a third of households that have suffered a relationship breakdown are also struggling with addiction.

As Tina opened up in the four hours we were with her, she revealed just what a difference it had made to receive CAP’s help: ‘Not once has any person from CAP said, “this is your doing”. Every step has lifted me a little bit further. It’s so nice to get up in the morning and see sunlight. Without CAP and the support of the church, I would not be debt free. I would not be here.’

By the end of the interview, Tina and I were declaring we were ‘BFFs’ and she was making me promise to let her know when my baby arrives. A week later, a parcel arrived in the office. Tina had handmade me a hanging sign saying ‘It’s not how big the house is, it’s how happy the home is’.

I can truly say that Tina’s home is a happy one. But whilst her debts may be solved, her physical and mental health battles are still very real. Looking at Tina’s life, she is a mind-blowing example of God‘s joy and peace that pass understanding.

On the back of the findings of Stacked against, we’re calling on companies to recognise the ways they can make changes to their services in order to support those facing multiple complex needs.

A day in the life of a CAP Job Club

calendar18 March 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

A day in the life of a CAP Job Club

On a dark grey evening in a warm burgundy-walled church meeting room, a community of jobseekers and volunteers gather for their weekly CAP Job Club, one of 156 currently running across the UK. This week, I’m joining them.

The group are from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Most are unemployed, but some are simply seeking more sustainable employment, like David and Mark*. They both work for the same security firm and are seeking more long term employment, working on nightclub doors or guarding building sites overnight.

Like most Christian gatherings, since the early Church, a good portion of the meeting is devoted to making sure everyone was properly fed. Volunteers and members connect over plates of pie and mash, or pizza. There’s even a large chocolate cake for someone’s birthday.

‘It’s always a laugh coming here,’ David says, ‘It’s great meeting new people and helping each other. The staff are excellent so when you need help, help’s there.’

Balwinder* is living on Universal Credit. He heard about the job club through his CAP Debt Coach. For him the sense of community is essential. As a single guy, being part of a weekly group of like-minded people gives him the friends and support network he needs. He comes along to the job club every week because there’s always something new.

‘Gaz is brilliant,’ he says, ‘He explains everything properly. I think it’s one of the best job clubs in the world. CAP’s changed my life.’

After the meal, everyone splits into groups and work booklets are handed out. Gaz talks everyone through filling out long-winded applications forms and how to write a standout cover letter. The atmosphere is cheerful and many of the members are happy to keep the conversation flowing and add to the discussion.

On my table is John*, a gas engineer who also runs his own business. He volunteers as a greeter at the job club and at the church’s food bank, signposting people to the different help that’s on offer.

He explains that he started to volunteer at the club because he wanted to make a difference and help the poor.

‘I enjoy it,’ John shares. ‘I believe it’s a reflection of God’s heart to the poor. Setting up a CAP Job Club is an important ministry. You need to find the right people, people who have a heart and a drive to genuinely listen and be there to offer advice. People who will go for it!’

After the meeting is over, Gaz explains why he thinks starting a job club is one of the best decisions you could make.

‘It’s a great way to release people and bring them into community. It’s more than just helping people find work. I’ve seen people written off by society, written off by job centres, written off by themselves, and yet I’ve seen how the work we do changes lives. That gives me hope.’

If you’re passionate about seeing people flourish, and are interested in finding out how your church can run a CAP Job Club, just give us a call at: 01274 760580, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or request an information pack today.

* Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

‘Cut to the bone’ - our clients talk about life on Universal Credit

calendar07 February 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

‘Cut to the bone’ - our clients talk about life on Universal Credit

Chances are, you’ve noticed Universal Credit making the headlines a lot lately. At CAP, we work directly with people who are being affected by it, so we asked them what it’s really like to apply for and receive Universal Credit.

Universal Credit – what is it?

The big idea behind Universal Credit is to simplify a range of benefits and tax credits into a single payment. It’s being rolled out in stages, so some people are already using it while others are still on the old system.

In theory, that all sounds sensible, but what do CAP’s clients say?

Making the switch

Just applying for Universal Credit can be a challenge. The lengthy form is online: great if you want to save trees, bad if you don’t have internet access, and 22% of our clients don’t have internet at home. Our client Alison* tried to apply over the phone instead, and this was her experience:

‘I was on hold forever and I didn’t have the money on my phone. I have no Internet at home so I walked to my local library which is quite far away... The form was quite long and I only had one hour to complete it. I did struggle to remember my past addresses. I’ve been homeless before and have had lots of care-of addresses, so it’s hard. The ID was also tricky because I’ve never had a passport. I had to buy new copies of my birth certificate.’

Once the claim is in, there’s a five week wait before the first payment. That’s five weeks without the benefits you’ve been living on. One single mum resorted to selling her belongings and another client was threatened with eviction because they couldn’t pay the rent during this time.

Getting in debt

To cover that five-week gap, there are ‘advances’ available. These are interest-free loans. While there’s no denying it’s good to have something to live on, it immediately puts you in the position of owing money that you have to repay within the space of a year. So as soon as you switch to Universal Credit, there’s a chance you’ll be in debt.

Everyone we spoke to said the repayments were too high for them to afford. One client said: ‘I read one line on a website that said, “We will take it back from your payments at a rate you can afford”. Well I shouldn’t have trusted them... as soon as I got the award for the benefits, I was down to £60 a month straight away.’

In practical terms, this meant people fell behind with household bills and had to use foodbanks.

But another side to debt and Universal Credit is that debts can be collected from your monthly payments, and some people are surprised at the proportion that can be taken for this. Imagine paying your rent and then having almost a third (30%) of your remaining income taken away. What would you have to go without to make ends meet?

Another of our clients said: ‘Every month, I’m ringing people to say I can’t pay, even though I’ve only got very small bills. I pay £9 a month for phone, I don’t have internet, I don’t have Sky or anything like that. Everything is cut down to the bone and I’m still living hand-to-mouth. I try not to go to the food bank when I don’t have to but I’ve always been using the foodbank while I’ve been on this benefit.’

Surviving day-to-day

If you’re on a low income then, put simply, you need to be brilliant at budgeting to get by. You might have heard that switching to Universal Credit means any fortnightly benefits you received move to monthly payments. But what’s less well known is that Universal Credit payments can fluctuate dramatically, and clients said they often didn’t know how much money they would be getting that month.

‘I work 22 hours a week and I find it very difficult to budget because my Universal Credit payment fluctuates so much. It’s never what they say it’s going to be. I look at my online account and it shows a figure but you can’t rely on it. It can be a big change, like £300.’

This is particularly a problem for clients who have paid jobs. If their wages come in more frequently than once a month then the system may miscalculate how much Universal Credit they’re owed.

What’s more, Universal Credit will cover up to 85% of a claimant’s childcare costs (up to a limit), but you still have to pay these costs up front and then reclaim them. Most single parents on low incomes simply don’t have the money to do this. Sadly, one of our clients lost their childcare place while waiting for their first Universal Credit payment, which then led to them then losing their job.

It’s safe to say there’s a lot of problems here. But that’s perhaps unsurprising with such a huge system, which will eventually be used by one in four UK households. The good news is there are people in government who are keen to listen to CAP’s voice and make the changes needed to make Universal Credit really work.

Want to know more about what our clients said about Universal Credit? We’ve produced a series of papers sharing the results of our survey. They’re full of stories from our clients’ real experiences.

Read more

 

 

*Client names changed to protect privacy

You are loved

calendar07 February 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

You are loved

By the nature of the work we do here at CAP, we meet lots of particularly vulnerable people, many of whom struggle with mental ill-health. The truth is that mental ill-health and poverty are an incredibly dangerous combination, but sadly a very common one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, poverty can often have a knock-on effect on a person’s wellbeing, just as mental health struggles can contribute to poverty.  As a result, more than a third of our clients have considered or attempted to end their own life before seeking help.

Of course, this is not the answer. No matter how desperate things may seem, we know that there’s always hope. As Christians, we’re called to demonstrate God’s love and to show people how valued and treasured they are.

And that’s exactly what the amazing CNI Network (Christian Nightlife Initiatives) is doing through their new campaign, Loved, which aims to spread positivity to people that need it, particularly those struggling to cope with life.

The CNI Network is the organisation behind Street Angels, who you’ll probably have seen, even if you haven’t heard of them. In their high visibility jackets, Street Angels brave the cold to go out into town and city centres across the UK late at night, looking out for vulnerable people and keeping them safe.

‘Often alcohol and drugs can cause emotions to heighten and our teams are available to chat, help, listen and care,’ says Paul Blakely, who founded the network. ‘One team of Street Angels was sharing with me that a young man approached them asking for help because he wanted to end his life. The team walked him to A&E where they sat with him, got him a coffee, listened and reassured him before the A&E team could take over at 5am.’

It’s encounters like this that became the basis of the Loved campaign, which is designed to reach people experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as trauma, depression and other mental health struggles. They’re placing posters, art, messages and even team members in risk areas, as well as online, in churches and across communities, to remind people that there’s always a way out and a brighter future ahead.

‘The idea was sparked by several conversations that took place following some tragic events in our community. Sadly, almost daily, for a few weeks in late December 2018 and early January 2019, several people ended their lives or contemplated doing this. The Calderdale Methodist Circuit, Calderdale Chaplains and CNI Network joined together to put some Angels with positive messages in key places over Christmas and in January and we felt that this needed to continue.’

‘Together we are demonstrating God's kingdom of love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, transformation as a reality for people and communities – we are people of hope sharing hope for others. Our everyday and ordinary, achieving the profound and world changing.’

The Loved campaign website is full of ideas and downloadable resources to help you bring hope to those who are struggling. You could make a huge difference to a person’s life just by letting them know how much you care.

A similar campaign by Samaritans, Small Talk Saves Lives, encourages us to strike up a conversation with people who we think are struggling, even if they’re a stranger on the train. As Brits, we like to keep ourselves to ourselves, but this campaign is all about the power of a simple hello, a kind word or a quick chat. As Samaritans say, ‘Small talk doesn’t just break the ice… it can also interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts’.

So, let me end by saying this: you are loved. You are important. You matter. You are beloved by the creator of the stars above you and the earth beneath your feet. Take care of yourself and take care of one another. You can make it through this, but you don’t have to make it through on your own. Talk to someone, today.

Need some room to breathe?

calendar04 February 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Need some room to breathe?

Imagine you’re drowning in debt. There’s someone hammering on your door, saying you need to pay up. You want to pay back what you owe, but you need help, and you need more time. If only the knocking at the door would stop…

What is Breathing Space?

Breathing Space is a fixed period of time when creditors stop contacting the person who owes them money. It means no visits, no letters, no phonecalls chasing you for your debts. This is to give people in debt a fighting chance to get crucial advice and support. It’s where we can step in to start a client on their journey out of debt.

Why has CAP released a paper on this?

The government has put together its proposals for how to run Breathing Space (and also something they’re calling the ‘statutory debt repayment plan’), and they’ve asked for feedback. It’s great that we get to be part of the discussion on issues like this. We’re committed to being a voice for our clients, and we respond with their needs in mind.

So what does the proposal say and what’s CAP’s view?

Read CAP's paper here

 

 

The two big headlines proposed are:

  1. Breathing Space: your creditors leave you alone for 60 days while you get advice on a repayment plan.
  2. A statutory debt repayment plan – anyone repaying their debts through this scheme would be safe from creditors taking action against them.

 

Here are some key things we’ve said in response:

  • On the whole, we support Breathing Space. It gives people a chance to call us and start their journey out of debt, and we’re always keen for that to happen.
  • However, we believe it’s important that all creditors take a step back during this time (no more relentless phone calls, frightening letters, or visits from enforcement agents). Otherwise there’s a risk it becomes too stressful and difficult to engage with a debt repayment plan.
  • For example, the proposal excludes fraudulent debts & court fines the same way they wouldn’t be covered if you were going through insolvency, but we’re arguing this doesn’t need to be the case because Breathing Space is very different to insolvency!
  • We’re against the idea of a public register of everyone on Breathing Space. The thought of being on a register could really put people off asking for the help they need.
  • We’d like to see interest and charges paused for anyone on this scheme, but only if this won’t affect their credit file by showing up as a default.
  • While we understand a statutory debt repayment plan will appear on a debtor’s credit file, we believe that as soon as the plan is completed and the debts gone, they should have a clean slate. We believe in giving people a fresh start!
  • We like giving people the option of payment breaks, so that if life suddenly changes (maybe you’re in hospital or lose your job) you can have a break from making repayments.
  • Last of all, we know that life can be busy and complicated when you’re in debt. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything you owe, so we’d like there to be a way to add debts to the repayment plan after it’s started, in case something has been missed.

That’s great, but will CAP’s voice be heard?

The good news is that the government is listening to us! Our recommendations have already led to some changes. We asked for a safeguard so people wouldn’t be forced into having a Pre-Payment Meter fitted, and it happened. Then we asked for the option not to include rent arrears in the repayment plan to protect people worried about eviction. You guessed it, they said yes to that too!

 

This year (2019) we should see Breathing Space become a reality and the government is set to announce next steps for the statutory debt plan soon.

 

Want to know more?

Read the full report here

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