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Some good news in 2020

calendar04 November 2020

Author: Claire Wong

Some good news in 2020

We've all become rather used to bad news this year, but today we'd like to tell you about a team of people who've been working hard behind the scenes to do some good. Rachel, Jonathan, Paul, Kiri and Helen are from our External Affairs team, and they work with industries and the Government to make life fairer for people on low incomes. We asked them to share some highlights from the year.

Rachel Gregory, Social Policy Manager

Throughout 2020, CAP has been championing change at government and regulatory level to prevent problem debt and make sure support is there for everyone who needs it. Since January we've been part of achieving 18 different policy changes! These span consumer credit, justice policies, welfare and utilities, and include some major wins such as a new Simple Payment Plan that halves the upfront cost of a new TV Licence for people on low incomes and the first increases to benefits for over four years.

COVID-19 brought new priorities, and we’ve been working hard to help policy makers understand who has been hardest-hit, and what support they need. Council Tax is one of the biggest types of debt we see at CAP, so we worked with others in the debt advice sector and MPs to press the Government on how they would support people to repay rather than pursuing enforcement as normal. Local Authorities have since been allowed to budget Council Tax deficits over the next three years to allow for more flexible payment plans. There’s more to do, and we continue to press for more progress in the months and year ahead.

Jonathan Shaw, Creditor Relationship Manager

March saw a flurry of activity across the finance industry! The response of the credit industry has been incredibly positive and proactive throughout the pandemic and we’re pleased to see the length creditors have gone to to support their most vulnerable customers. It’s been great to attend the weekly Money Advice Liaison Group to check in with other advice agencies and creditors too.

We’ve worked more and more closely with firms across the industry to ensure the experiences of our clients are being heard ...even speaking with Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England about what our clients are facing during COVID-19.

Working from home has naturally proved a huge challenge for everyone - but it’s also brought great opportunities for us to work differently now, and in the future. For our communications with creditors, that means more check-ins/catch ups and looking at more efficient ways of communicating.

Paul Walmsley, Energy Relationship Manager

2020 has been a strange year indeed, but one full of optimism for me working in the Energy sector. A massive piece of work we delivered early on was our report A dark place, which spoke up on the subject of self-disconnection and rationing from our clients’ perspective. A shocking number of people have gone without essentials due to the affordability of energy, and this is something we’ve been starting to champion. It comes as a welcome sign that Ofgem have started to put things in place to monitor self-disconnection, particularly among vulnerable energy consumers, as winter hits.

The impact of COVID-19 on energy customers will be lasting. That’s why we’re incredibly grateful for the partner companies we’ve worked with so far this year in bringing emergency assistance to CAP clients who are really struggling with their energy. In association with the Fuel Bank Foundation, we’ve managed to support clients with well over £6,000 in emergency fuel vouchers when they desperately needed it. This sort of help is more accessible than ever: built-into our frontline services to make sure it is reaching the right people at the right time.

Kiri Saunders, Water & Communications Relationship Manager

Like most workforces across the UK, ‘business as usual’ was thrown out the window in late March. Since then, we’ve been working hard to understand how COVID-19 is impacting CAP clients and what the wider industry is doing to help. We launched a new project to hear more about the challenges low income households are facing during this time. The project included interviews, polling CAP clients and making films to showcase the reality to decision makers. This information, along with our data collection, has helped us ask for change that will help those most affected.

The issue of digital exclusion has really been highlighted during COVID-19, and whilst we’ve not seen a solution yet - the good news is that this topic is very much back on the table. On the water front (no pun intended), it’s been encouraging to see suppliers working tirelessly to roll out new measures of support for customers and we have been part of the discussions to ensure this support makes a real impact for people. 

Helen Webb, National External Partnerships Manager

We are blessed to have some great national referral partners. It’s through these partnerships that we're able to offer CAP’s help to many people across our nation.

This year 3.2 million people signed on for Universal credit between March and June. Our referral partnership with DWP Jobcentre Plus has meant that we can offer hope to some of those people: not just debt help but also help via our group services.

People like Carla, a victim of domestic violence, left alone to care for her children; she had no money and no food at all. The bills had all been put into her name and she had a lot of debt, to the point that she thought that she might kill herself.

She saw a CAP leaflet at the Jobcentre plus, took it home and called the number; she thought someone would just listen to her story but she didn’t think anyone could help her. The great news is that we were able to help: the local CAP Debt Centre Manager visited her home and gave her foodbank vouchers, as well as helping her sort out her debts and paperwork. Now she and her children are happy, they always have enough food, they all love going to church and they have many friends there.

Working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus means that we can help many people like Carla every year.


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How a pandemic changed the landscape of debt

calendar26 October 2020

Author: Kiri Saunders

How a pandemic changed the landscape of debt

We’ve been talking about COVID-19 all year. In that time we’ve coined some new phrases like social distancing, self-isolation and support bubbles. We’ve gained a new appreciation for aisles full of toilet roll and we all know someone who’s made a loaf of sourdough. Some of us have experienced a slower pace of life, whether it’s reduced social calendars or not having to commute into work. Others have been rushed off their feet, such as our key workers or those trying to juggle work and home schooling. Some have been able to save more, or pay off that credit card, whereas others have struggled to get by on an 80% wage, or really felt the extra costs of being at home all the time.

It’s interesting that our collective experience of the pandemic has been both unifying and polarising.

At CAP, we are watching this pandemic shift the debt landscape. Those able to work from home and earn a full wage during lockdown also had fewer opportunities to spend. No more money spent on commuting or eating out. Bank of England statistics showed that £7.4bn of consumer credit was repaid in April 2020, the largest net repayment since records began in 1993. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that people saved 8.6% of their income in the first three months of 2020, more than the 5.4% of savings made in the same period in 2019.

Sounds like good news, right?

Wrong. Sadly, this isn’t the experience for everyone. Some groups in society, such as the under-30s and those on low incomes, have been hit hard by the pandemic. This is because many work in sectors impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. According to the Resolution Foundation, low income households were twice as likely as richer ones to have increased their debts during the crisis.

At CAP, we know how the impact of debt spans across the social, physical and financial spheres of life. Problem debt can have a real impact on living standards, with many clients telling us that before seeking support from CAP Debt Help they would frequently go without food, heat or light.

Sadly, the UK is seeing more households starting to struggle to afford these daily essentials because of COVID-19. According to a YouGov report, of those who consider themselves financially distressed, 37% say they’ve eaten less than normal, and 31% have reduced the number of showers or baths they’re taking. Here at CAP, many clients have felt the impact of increased household bills. Others have struggled with being put on reduced hours, with one client saying, 'I’ve had about £400 decrease in wages – I can’t pay into my CAP Plan anymore. Also, not having the money to go shopping or get stuff I need’.

On one hand, the pandemic is causing the rich to get richer, giving people the chance to save more money and pay off their debt. On the other hand, the pandemic is leaving those already struggling on low incomes to deal with unavoidable income shocks.

We’ve seen something similar to this before. After the 2008 financial crisis, we started to hear more about the growing number of people needing to use foodbanks. As a nation we became more aware of UK poverty, seeing the growing economic divide between the wealthy and those on low incomes. Today’s financial crisis is no different; some people will be hit hard whilst others will profit.

That is why Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is going to be needed more than ever.

We are working tirelessly to ensure we can help as many people as possible. We are gearing up in anticipation of the many more households falling into problem debt because of COVID-19. At the same time, we are working with the Government and creditors, to help them understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on some of the UK’s lowest income households. We are campaigning for changes that would make a real difference to our clients, such as keeping the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

CAP’s heart is to not only help people with their financial circumstances, but also to share the love of Jesus. We are here to bring the good news to people in isolation, people struggling with mental health challenges, those facing relationship breakdown or experiencing joblessness. We are here to bring hope to those who feel as though there’s no way out, because even in the most testing of times, with God by our side, there is always hope.

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Kick Start: three months on

calendar19 October 2020

Author: Sam Leach

Kick Start: three months on

It’s been just under three months since we launched Kick Start and we’ve been blown away by the response.

Just a few short months ago, regardless of which corner of the country you looked to, life suddenly looked very different. However, who was there leading the way in local support through an amazing outpouring of time, finance and friendship? You guessed it, the Church!

Inspired and encouraged by the selfless serving from churches across the country, we set out to create Kick Start: a free gift designed to equip you and your church with the tools needed to provide practical support online and meet the rising challenges of unemployment, finance and mental health head on. 

‘Our first session was REALLY good. We spent our time getting to know one another and hearing our struggles. We then asked people what they wanted to get out of the sessions. They all seemed so keen. There was mutual learning and I really think that is key.’ - Claire, Kick Start Facilitator

We’ve now had over 750 people sign up to run Kick Start! That’s over 750 people who, along with their church, are now bringing practical support hand-in-hand with the love of Jesus to their towns, cities and villages, as a part of new or existing ministries.


Kick Start in the coming months

Now, with a strange sense of déjà vu, as I type this from a cobbled together home office on a kitchen table, preparing for further months of fluctuating restrictions, I’m of course concerned about what lies ahead. But I have hope in the knowledge that God has continued, and will continue, to work through his Church. 

‘As each week passed it was lovely to see the attendees opening up and becoming comfortable sharing their own experiences. It's quite special when you see the group listening and learning so much from each other and offering positive advice.’ - Hannah. Kick Start Facilitator

We’re committed to continuing to support churches throughout this pandemic. Our services haven’t stopped, and over the coming months we’ll be continuing to bring new content, guidance and support for churches. We know that the need can still feel overwhelming at times, but we also know that you and your church can have an incredible impact. 

If you know of people in your community, who are struggling with finance, unemployment, or the emotional impact of COVID-19, why not encourage your church leaders to run Kick Start? 

No training is required, no prior knowledge needed, all you need is a heart and desire to help people get back on their feet at this time.

Sign up for free to access all 9 bitesize sessions of empowering content to help people move forward in life.

Access Kick Start today

Why the Government must #KeepTheLifeline

calendar14 September 2020

Author: 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 expect the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to annouce the planned benefit rates for 2021/22 in mid-November. This is 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. 

Add your support by signing the petition here to help people like CAP Client Darren who shares what losing the lifeline would mean for him in this video.

Why am I not blooming again yet?

calendar09 September 2020

Author: 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.



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.

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