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There’s a lot to learn from Lent

calendar24 February 2020

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

There’s a lot to learn from Lent

This Tuesday (25 February) is Pancake Day (YAAAY! PANCAKES!) and for the 40 days that follow, leading up to Easter, it’s Lent (WHAT? BOOOO!) At least, that was my reaction when I was told about Lent as a kid.

Traditionally, Lent is the time of year when some Christians practise ‘fasting’ to remember the time that Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. Although some people still limit the food they eat, these days it often means that people give up something they do a lot for 40 days.

Many different religions have a tradition of practising fasting in one way or another, including Jesus’ religion, Judaism. So, of course, Jesus had something to say about it:

‘When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ Matthew 6:16-18

So, firstly, that means if we’re taking part in Lent this year, we shouldn’t show off about what a good job we’re doing or complain about it (sorry childhood me!) because we’re choosing to do it.

And, secondly, fasting is supposed to be a rewarding thing. One of the rewards is what you learn about yourself and your relationship with God and the world you live in.

One year, as a teenager, I gave up Coca-Cola which was very revealing. I once got up, went to the kitchen and opened the fridge to get a glass of Coca-Cola before I realised A) I’d given up Coca-Cola so there wasn’t any in the fridge and B) I’d done it automatically without thinking. That’s one thing that’s good about Lent: it shows you what you do impulsively.

In many ways, our ideas, prejudices, routines and habits possess us and motivate our actions, so giving something up can be surprisingly freeing.

For a few years, my family gave up TV for Lent. It was hard, as you can imagine. Once we were so bored that the entire family decided to follow my sister to her doctor's appointment, an errand that I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take five people to complete.

There were good things too, though. I discovered BBC Radio 7 (especially the sci-fi and horror hour) and I remember reading so many books. It probably helped to jump start my love of literature. I learned that, like a lot of things, TV is mostly a good thing, but it isn’t the only thing, and I have a choice about what I give my time and energy to.

This year, I’ll be giving up meat for Lent. I’ve been planning to go vegetarian for a long time for moral/ecological reasons, because I feel like I don’t need it and I thought Lent would be a good chance to experiment and find out if I can make the change for good.

Come Easter and the end of Lent, we don’t necessarily have to go back to what we’ve given up, but those six weeks could be a great starting point to changing the way we act in our day-to-day lives. Is there a cycle of habits you feel stuck in? 40 days could change your life.

CAP gives TV licence scheme top rating

calendar19 February 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

CAP gives TV licence scheme top rating

You’re sitting in your home, a quiet night in, and there’s a knock at the door. It’s TV Licensing. They’ve seen you watching the telly through the window and there’s no place to hide. You can now look forward to a series of letters inviting you to a local magistrates’ court where you’ll likely be fined £1,000 or may be even face imprisonment.

It’s not like you wanted to skip payments. You wanted to do things by the book. The very last thing you wanted was a court appearance or hefty fine but your income just doesn’t stretch to a licence, especially when the first six months of monthly payments are notoriously the most expensive.

At Christians Against Poverty, we appreciate the complexities of life especially for people on a low income dealing with many issues at once. Of course, the BBC has to be paid for but it does seem that a criminal court process for an unpaid television licence is out of kilter with the way almost all other household bills are processed, Council Tax being the exception.

However, there’s some good news for people on a very low income:

CAP was heavily involved in a pilot scheme called the Simple Payment Plan back in 2018 which is going to be rolled out this Spring. It will mean viewers can save £12.50 a month on that new licence, if they are referred by a registered charity or debt organisation, skipping the usual double monthly payment which is standard practice for the first six months.

The trial period accepted TV viewers from April to September 2018. At CAP, we found this to be really helpful and we referred 130 clients through the scheme. We also put forward our views suggesting some tweaks to make the operation even smoother. This included an advisor helpline so that a debt counsellor, for instance, could find out how far their client’s case had progressed.

Well, we’ve been listened to, so that’s excellent news. So, who will this help?

  • People who don’t have a licence
  • People who are in the first six months of their licence
  • Those in arrears so that the money owed can be spread across the year too

As one debt coach said: ‘I often come across clients, who know they should have a TV licence and are watching TV without one but are afraid to ring and set one up as they know it's another expense they can't afford. They've often heard or know from experience that the installments are more for the first six months and that puts them off. 

‘When I explained the simple payment plan, that it's something we could include in their budget and offered to ring up with them, it was such a relief! It removed the pressure of taking the risk of a fine for being caught without a licence.

‘For a lot of clients, freeing up £12.50 a month for other expenses was of huge benefit.’

Five minutes with… Andrew Wilson

calendar03 February 2020

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Five minutes with… Andrew Wilson

We spoke to Andrew Wilson, CAP’s Head of Life Skills and Regional Leader for Wales and the South of England, about how he came to work here.

Hi Andrew! Tell us a bit about your background before coming to CAP.

My full career up until CAP was in the corporate world. I was Head of Recruitment for a couple of large businesses and previously had other international HR jobs. So it was a bit of a life change to come to CAP!

What prompted you to make such a big career change?

I was getting frustrated at seeing enormous levels of corporate greed in the workplace. I thought about moving to another similar role elsewhere. And then I wondered if I could do something very different instead. I felt a word from God of ‘Enough’. It was permission that I could leave the secular world and also ‘enough’ as a promise that God would provide for me and my family. I resigned the next day!

Then I waited for God to find me the right role. CAP was an organisation I had in mind that I’d like to work for. We’ve been supporters of CAP for many years. We had a Debt Centre and Life Skills group in our church so I knew what was involved in that. I knew those roles were already filled in my church and I probably wouldn’t be very good at them anyway! So I was thinking CAP’s never going to work out because that’s all in Bradford, isn’t it? But little did I know that Matt Barlow (CEO at the time) was deciding to put network directors based in the regions they were overseeing. I interviewed and then joined CAP in May 2018.

I’ve got two roles. I’m Regional Leader for Wales and the South of England and I’m Head of Life Skills nationally.

Having worked both in the corporate world and for a charity, what differences do you see between the two?

For me, the biggest difference between working in the corporate world and a charity like CAP is the unity of why people are here. It’s about making a difference that’s for an eternal purpose and one of great justice in the Kingdom of Heaven here in the UK. That purpose is way higher and way stronger than just furthering your career or making a lot of money.

What’s your favourite part of your work?

Seeing God’s Church get excited about serving the poor and saving the lost. I hear stories all the time about how Life Skills makes a difference in the local community and how it’s helping people break generational barriers caused by the lack of those life skills. It’s inspiring when you hear the passion with which our frontline workers talk, either because they’ve helped someone out of debt, or their service is working really well, or – for me, more important than that – when someone comes to faith.

And do you get to use your previous experience in your current role?

For me personally, I’ve gained experience through my career that I can bring now to support other people. It’s rewarding to see that God brought me here ‘for such a time as this’. I’m working with other departments to support them in how we recruit our frontline staff and with strategy planning. These are things I did in previous roles and now I get to learn from that and see how it can apply to CAP.

Tell us one highlight of your job!

Earlier in the year, I did a tour of the south west, down into Devon and Cornwall. I got to see how churches love what CAP offers them, but they also take it on and make it work for them in their context. You see churches in different towns or cities and how they’ve made it really effective for them. That was really inspirational to see.

We’re not running an organisation for our own benefit, it’s for those that are lost and need to be out of debt. That’s where you see the real difference CAP makes.

Fancy using your skills to make a difference in CAP’s mission? Check out our current vacancies at capuk.org/jobs

Toucan talk about money

calendar14 January 2020

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Toucan talk about money

It can be easy to forget to worry about the future when you find the person you want to be with for the rest of your life!

The harsh reality is: money troubles can put a huge strain on a long-term relationship. A recent YouGov survey found that money worries were the top pressure on relationships, with more than a quarter of people saying that financial concerns caused a strain on their relationships.

The pressure can increase when partners have contrasting relationships to money. Some studies even suggested that money problems are the number one cause of divorce so it clearly pays to invest in good conversations on this topic... but where to start?

Christians Against Poverty has teamed up with Family Life UK at the charity Agape to help couples learn how to work together and communicate well over their finances. Toucan Together is a free app to provide a unique online series of videos and activities, which help couples to intentionally strengthen their relationships. You can take part in it any time of the day, right from your phone or computer, so it can easily fit in with your busy lifestyle and we think it's ideal for anyone preparing for getting married.

The app’s modules cover conflict, communication, loving and growing. For the development of the new money module, they came to us for help.

'Talking freely about finances is one of the biggest challenges couples can face, so we've been delighted to work with Family Life on this new money module for the Toucan app,' says Paula Stringer, CAP's UK Chief Executive. 'The CAP Money Course referenced in the module has helped tens of thousands of people to budget. Our hope is that it will give people the best excuse for talking about their financial priorities rather than leaving it until a crisis point.’

So, whether your relationship is struggling right now, or you want to make a strong relationship stronger, take a look at toucantogether.com.

A day doing nothing?

calendar14 January 2020

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

A day doing nothing?

What if you had to spend the day doing nothing? An attractive prospect if you’re a busy person, perhaps. But what if this wasn’t your choice? No work, no friends round, no television, music, books, social media, post or phone calls. No leaving the house. Curtains stay closed. No food or drink, apart from a glass of water and a slice of bread and a little jam. That’s what Colchester Debt Centre Manager, Paula Goddard, did to raise money for our work here at Christians Against Poverty.

Working for CAP, Paula knows that many of her clients have had to live with this situation every day. Eight out of ten debt clients say they feel lonely or isolated before getting help. One in five say they don’t leave their house for a week or more. The loneliness makes their outlook feel even worse. Paula found herself feeling anxious just a few hours into her 'Do Nothing Day'. 

'The first two hours are spent fighting the urge to go back to sleep and with thoughts jumping around my head. Conversations I’ve had and need to have, what was said and what needs to be said.'

With no distractions of TV, internet or phone due to energy worries or disconnection, isolation creeps in. Food and, even water, is rationed.

'Our clients will limit water usage to keep the bill lower. By 10am, I needed my glass of water. The room was dark and my thoughts were still battling for space in my head. I was cold so pulled the duvet round me, by 11.30am I was so hungry I gave in and had my slice of bread. I took the bread back up to my room and sat eating slowly to try and make it last. Oh my! It tasted so good! It really was the only highlight of the day.'

However, this highlight was short-lived.

'By 1pm I was lethargic again and cold, I laid down with the duvet wrapped around me and my thoughts started running again and that was the longest three hours of the day because I knew I had an end to what I can only describe as mental hell, especially as it started getting darker.'

Paula’s was an experiment, a fundraiser she chose to do for charity for the day and she reflected that for people living with poverty, it must seem relentless.

'For the people out there needing our help, there is no easy end to the mental turmoil. There is no dinner waiting later with the family. There is no switching off in front of the TV with a cup of tea.'

Poverty doesn’t just affect someone's trip to the supermarket or the stuff they can or can't have. The isolation debt brings can deeply affect someone on an emotional and psychological level. 

If you help CAP in any way, through giving of your time, efforts, money and especially through prayers, thank you so much. It's because of you that we're able to bring hope to people feeling so alone.

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