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Why the Government must #KeepTheLifeline

calendar14 September 2020

Rachel Gregory's avatar Rachel Gregory

Why the Government must #KeepTheLifeline

March 2020 will be remembered as the month life changed overnight. But in fact the true reality and longevity of this change has been slow to dawn on us. 

The pandemic has reminded us how interconnected we are. Yet, this does not mean that the burdens have been shouldered evenly. It was, and is, households already living in poverty that are most at risk of financial peril due to the COVID-19 restrictions. 

Estimates are that 4.1 million people already in financial difficulty have seen a reduction in their income because of coronavirus and that peak unemployment will hit more than 18% in areas with the highest proportion of low paid jobs.

 

The right thing

When the coronavirus storm first struck household incomes the Government rightly acted swiftly and compassionately, throwing families a lifeline to help them stay afloat. It raised the standard allowance of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £20 a week, which prevented a surge in poverty.

For the people we help at CAP, an extra £20 a week goes a long way. It allows them to put food on the table, top up the prepayment meter or replace school shoes that are falling apart. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported in June that these temporary changes to benefits were the reason that households in the poorest fifth had not fallen further behind, despite having been hit the hardest in terms of earnings (losing £160 per month on average). 

 

The end is coming

But this temporary increase is due to end in April 2021. Dropping the lifeline will slash the incomes of roughly 16 million people overnight, cutting them adrift while the storm is still raging, and with further turmoil ahead. 

While April 2021 may seem a long way off still, (who else is not ready to think about Christmas?!), the prospect of losing that money is already playing on the minds of families living on a financial knife edge. One single mum of three CAP supported, told us, 

“What happens when the coronavirus is over and they take back that money? I’m going to be back to square one. I see that they’re trying to help, but for families with children with disabilities, it’s been absolutely appalling. They don’t understand the circumstances of someone with additional needs. It’s really tough.”

 

This is an opportunity

While there will be no Autumn Budget this year, we do expect more economic statements from the Chancellor. He has a key opportunity to ensure this lifeline is maintained and also thrown to those on legacy benefits who were missed out in the Government’s initial response. Without it, 700,000 people will be pulled into poverty and half of the people we help at CAP are at risk of being in this group. 

That’s why CAP has joined more than 60 other anti-poverty charities to call on the Government to #KeepTheLifeline. As we all look ahead to recovery, we need to acknowledge that we’re in this together. Our social security system will be vital to keep our society steady through the challenges ahead. This is our opportunity to choose to do the right thing: keep the lifeline and keep families afloat. 

Why am I not blooming again yet?

calendar09 September 2020

Claire Cowles's avatar Claire Cowles

Why am I not blooming again yet?

Back in the spring, I realised a geum I’d planted last summer wasn’t in the right spot – it was going to be swamped by a fast-growing shrub rose and hidden from view. The geum was already in flower, and looking incredible with its papery apricot-coloured blooms, despite the fact that its thorny neighbour was looming over it like a thug.

To that geum, Spring 2020 was just like any other spring. Business as usual. As the chill of winter started to lift, it poked its head above ground and got ready for the season ahead.

Unbeknownst to the geum, I was planning a plot twist. I decided I’d better move it before the rose got any bigger. So rudely, and without invitation, I wrenched that beautiful plant from its comfort, dug a new hole and replanted it.

That beautiful, flourishing geum needed to move to a new place to protect it from what was coming. No matter how settled it felt in its familiar spot, that plant needed a sudden change for its own good. (Sound relatable?)

So, plant moved, job done, sit back and enjoy the floral display, right? Wrong.

The thing is, when you move a plant, you essentially give it a massive shock. The fact it was only moved about half a metre away from its original spot, not somewhere unfamiliar, didn’t matter – it was still ripped out of its comfort zone and expected to suddenly adjust to a new location. (I’m definitely relating to this now. Anyone with me?)

Prior to me rocking up, trowel in hand, my geum was happily doing its thing, using the root system it had established both to feel secure and to draw up vital water and nutrients. Moving the plant suddenly meant all that it was relying on had been damaged and disturbed.

It still had a root system there after being moved, but it needed to work hard on re-establishing it – some minor roots were left behind; some major roots were damaged. The wounds were all there, but not visible now the plant was back in the ground. Just like us, shut away in our homes and trying to make that adjustment with many of our normal support networks cut off or impaired.

To ensure the relocated plant survives, you obviously have to give it the essentials – soil, plant food and plenty of water. Our equivalents in lockdown were limited to those bare essentials too – groceries, one walk or run a day, a roof over our heads and the basic tech to do our jobs.

However, when you move a plant, there’s one more thing you’ve got to do to give it a fighting chance to survive (and later thrive): you have to remove every single bloom. You take shears, and you deliberately cut off the crowning beauty of the plant. This is a vital part of the process, because it enables the plant to power energy into re-establishing its root system. Although the roots are the hidden parts of the plant, they’re its main source of sustenance. What ‘hidden’ things sustain me? Am I doing all I can for my physical and mental health, self care, good sleep and, crucially, my relationship with God?

You may have given yourself slack for adjusting to the initial shock of entering lockdown, but I want to encourage you that it’s OK for you to still feel unsettled, for you to feel like the sweet-scented beauty of your life hasn’t come back as quickly as it disappeared.

The biggest lesson a garden teaches you is the art of waiting – the power and beauty of time.

Cutting the flowers off my plant was an event, but regrowing them was a process. The blooms on my geum returned this summer, but I had to watch closely and stay patient. You too will bloom again, God promises us all that, but your root system needs to be your focus for now.

If you’d like a longer read that explains the physical and emotional impact we’re all navigating (and some strategies to help), this is an excellent article.

 

Bio:

Claire Cowles

Brand Communications Manager

Serving at CAP since 2005 to give a voice to those who are going unheard. Driven by justice and a desire to potter in the garden. Claire has worked in Communications for 15 years and, during that time, has overseen all areas of the department’s work. Her role now sees her leading our Brand Strategy and PR teams, working to craft CAP’s brand and personality across our many audiences.

16 ways to say thank you

calendar12 August 2020

Hannah Sanford's avatar Hannah Sanford

16 ways to say thank you

It’s good to be thankful. And when someone has done something to put a smile on your face, it's natural to want to do or say something to show your appreciation.

No matter who you are saying thank you to, it is important to think about how they would like to be thanked, whether in public or private, with words or actions, directly or indirectly, with gifts or quality time. Think about their personality, and how they would express their appreciation to you.

We thought we’d help you out and give you 16 ideas for saying those two special words.

 

Say thank you...

…with words:

1. Can you remember the last time you received a hand-written letter? It’s always exciting to see that handwritten envelope amongst all the bills and magazines. It’s not as common to send a thank you card these days, but the power of words shouldn’t be overlooked. Expressing what someone’s actions or gifts have meant to you can be really powerful, helping them to feel appreciated more than a gift could.  

2. Did you know that text messages have a 98% open rate, while email has only a 20% open rate? So for something smaller, why not send a spontaneous text acknowledging that you’ve noticed what they have done? 

3. If you want to thank someone publicly during this time, why not write a post on social media and tag them in it?

4. If you prefer spoken communication over written, you could try something a bit different like making a thank you video. This could just be you telling them what you appreciate, or you could be creative and write a song or a funny poem. The possibilities are endless!

…with gifts:

5. Who doesn’t like receiving a spontaneous gift? It’s a great way to not only show someone your appreciation, but that you care enough to go through the effort of buying them a gift. Make a gift bag or hamper full of things you know they like, or something that they’ve mentioned in the past. Even if it’s only their favourite drink, biscuits and chocolates, it’s enough to show them that you know and appreciate them.

6. If you're feeling creative, you could go one step further and make something! Even if you’re not creative or able to create something for someone, could you bake them a cake or some cookies to recognise your gratitude? 

…with time:

7. Some people simply appreciate some quality time with a friend. This is an easy way to bless them: invite them over for dinner, arrange to go for a walk with them, or take them out for a picnic (remaining socially-distanced of course!). There are so many ways to bless people with your time.

…in a practical way:

8. If you have heard of the five love languages, you will know that some people feel loved through acts of service. This could be anything from offering to babysit to helping someone redecorate their house. Could you walk their dog or help them with the gardening? Or perhaps you could simply return the favour.

...to your partner:

9. If your partner has had a busy or difficult day, try surprising them by cooking the dinner or by planning a date night to show your appreciation for all they do. 

10. Simply tell them what you appreciate about them. Often the small things can go unnoticed so speaking out that you’ve noticed what they’ve done can be really affirming.  

...to your child: 

11. To thank your child, try making a big deal out of their accomplishment by giving them an award, making a certificate or trophy for them.

12. Let them pick an activity for you to do together - set expectations or a budget so that you can say yes to whatever they pick! 

...to a colleague:

13. We can be grateful and generous in the workplace. Why not put some baked goods in the staff room to thank your colleagues?

14. At the moment, lots of us are working from home, but once we return a simple way to show your gratitude is to make a hot drink for your colleague.

...to a stranger:

15. Why not make someone’s day by acknowledging their hard work? This is a stressful time for many people so small gestures can make a huge difference. Ask your cashier how their day has been, thank your bus driver, tip your waitress generously, or even the simple gesture of making eye contact and smiling can have an impact. Did you know that smiles can be contagious? People actually have trouble frowning when looking at others who are smiling and find themselves subconsciously beginning to smile as well. So make someone smile today! 

Finally...

16. If someone has done something kind to you out of the blue and it has made your day, why not pay it forward? Replicate the idea and make someone else’s day - spread the love and thankfulness around!

 

Here at Christians Against Poverty, we are so thankful to all of our amazing supporters, without you we would not be able to do the work we do. We also always want to thank God for his continued provision and blessing. 
 

Week of Fun: 7 things to do with the kids this summer

calendar06 August 2020

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Week of Fun: 7 things to do with the kids this summer

It’s the summer holidays, but not quite as we’ve known them before. With most of the usual summer clubs cancelled, and overseas vacations off the cards for many of us, it’s a bit more of a challenge than previous years to plan in fun activities for the family.

I have an adventurous two year old, so I want to make sure we enjoy some sunny days outside this summer, and I definitely want to plan some rainy day activities to keep us entertained at home.

So, here are my seven ideas for a week of fun with your kids!

(Note: these activities are all designed to be possible around current lockdown restrictions. However, please refer to the government guidelines in your own area and adapt the activities to make sure they are safe for your family!)

Monday

Junk modelling! Gather up your old boxes and bottles, the stuff you’d normally chuck in the recycling or bin, and see what you can build by putting them together with sellotape or glue. Will you make a robot, a boat, or a house? If your kids are old enough to use sellotape and scissors by themselves, make it into a competition to see who can build the tallest box tower in the shortest amount of time.

Tuesday

Olympic Games! In place of the official games, run your own sports event at home or in your garden. My suggestions for events are:

  • Cushion-throw. Who can throw a cushion the furthest?
  • Bottle bowling. Line up some empty plastic bottles and try to knock them down like skittles.
  • Long jump. Probably doesn’t need explaining!

Wednesday

Discover your nearest nature reserve. Bored of the same old walk? RSPB reserves and others are re-opening. Find your nearest one here so you can get outdoors somewhere a bit different, and maybe spot some rare wildlife along the way!

Thursday

Have a music festival at home! Lots of summer music festivals are available to watch online this year. Make it authentic by putting on wellies and face paint, then sing along to your favourite songs.

Friday

Give back. It’s great to encourage our kids to help others and support the community. Could you go on a family litter pick? Or do a sponsored event to raise money for charity?

Saturday

Make your own pizzas. I’ll admit, I was definitely intimidated by the thought of this one. But it turns out it’s surprisingly easy! I used this recipe which only takes 20 mins (in theory: we all know cooking takes much longer with kids involved, right?). The best part is, your kids can pick their own toppings, meaning they’re far more likely to eat the finished product!

Sunday

Have a picnic. Eating in the sunshine is a summer classic, of course, but why not make it more exciting this year? Make it fancy dress, or a teddy bears’ picnic, get the kids to decorate their own paper plates while you pack up the food, or plan a simple scavenger hunt of things they have to find on the way to the picnic spot.

Not out of the thick of it

calendar23 July 2020

Kiri Saunders's avatar Kiri Saunders

Not out of the thick of it

With lockdown finally easing, we can now visit restaurants and even spend a few nights away. It would almost appear that life is slowly starting to resemble normality, but sadly that’s not the case for everyone. At Christians Against Poverty (CAP) we are continuing to monitor trends and speak to clients, learning how the pandemic is impacting those on the lowest incomes. For some, things are starting to look up, but for many, there remains more tough times ahead. Craig, Ben and Jared (names have been changed) have all been impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) in different ways and they bravely share their experiences below. 

The UK Prime Minister has insisted that he will do all he can to avoid a second national lockdown, but we know we're not out of the thick of it. For many, particularly those facing in-work poverty, there is uncertainty about future job security or only being able to work reduced hours. With no one expecting a quick economic recovery, more households are set to face these challenges in the future. 

 

Impact of furlough

Craig

‘Lockdown has been depressing. I’ve always worked, since I was 16. From 14 March, I’ve had no work. I got put on furlough so I’ve had about a £400 decrease in wages – I can’t pay anything towards my debts now. Also, I’ve not got the money to go shopping or get the stuff I need. The essentials you need have either run out or are too expensive. The shops where I usually go are closed, so you have to order online and pay shipping. It’s extra costs. I would usually get tips too, so my income has been drastically reduced. 

There are four of us in the house together all day instead of being at work or uni. It’s been stressful – we’re all used to not being at home at the same time.

As lockdown is easing, I’m due to go back to work, but part-time. It will take a while to go back to normal. Before, I was contracted to work 30 hours, but I usually do more like 40 to 50 hours a week depending on how busy it is. That’s an extra ten or more hours not covered in furlough, around £80/£90. It’s been a massive drop for me.’

 

Reduced hours

Ben

‘It’s not been too bad, I’ve been working a reduced number of days. I’m in one of these loopholes – our company became a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) last year, so the Government sees us as self-employed, although technically we are partners. As it only happened in the last year, we were not eligible for self-employed help or to be put on furlough. To economically survive as a company they put us effectively on a 2.5-day week and cancelled our bonuses. I’m on a 2.5-day week for the foreseeable future, until at least September. My wife is a teacher so she still has an income.

We have three children at home. One of my daughters works with me so her salary went down to half-time as well, so that affects what she can contribute to the family. My other two children are on zero-hour contracts so their work was cut.

Our grocery bills have gone up. Before, we would spend less, but because of lockdown and potentially the scarcity of some products, it’s gone up. It’s not too scary. It’s manageable. It’s not causing undue stress.

In effect, the impact has been in our reduced contributions to our CAP Plan. It’s frustrating as we had in sight being out of debt by May 2022 and now it’ll be two years after that. I’m sure we’ll find a way of recovering, but it may not be as quick as we'd like it to be.’ 

 

Shielding

Jared

‘I have asthma and fibromyalgia so I’ve just been shielding. At first, I had no one to collect my medication. Then the council got in touch and arranged for someone to help. It’s been hit and miss. 

I’ve had the money to do everything I needed to do. But I have to put gas and electricity on my prepayment meter and I’ve still had to go out to do that. I’ve got anxiety and depression so that hasn’t been easy. I’ve also had a problem with one company about my debts. All the way through this crisis they’ve been shouting for the money through letters. I phoned up and I explained my circumstances, but they weren’t really interested. Luckily, I’ve recently gone debt free. The help from CAP has really helped lift a weight off my shoulders.’

With advice to shield in our homes set to end on 1 August, many who have health vulnerabilities will be expected to go back to work and re-enter society. The virus will not have gone away by 1 August, but the financial support for those who are trying to protect themselves will. Those who are fearful of contracting the virus due to health conditions may be faced with difficult decisions, particularly around going into work. 

 

What is CAP doing about it?

The UK is slowly starting to establish a ‘new normal’. From 23 August, enforcement action is due to restart, yet many are still surviving on benefits or reduced incomes. That’s why, amongst other things, CAP is calling for Local Authorities to adopt a pre-action protocol for Council Tax, building in more steps to help identify households who are struggling financially or who are vulnerable, before enforcing a debt. 

Debt advice will be needed more than ever in the coming months and years. The Money and Pensions Service predicts that need for debt help in the UK will increase by 60% by the end of 2021. If you support CAP financially, we’d like to thank you for your generosity. Your support means we can help people across the UK who are living under the overwhelming weight of debt and poverty. If you’d like to start supporting CAP or increase your monthly donation, you can find out more at capuk.org/donate. Thank you – we couldn’t do it without you. 

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