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Not your average day at the office

calendar02 December 2013

Josie Barlow's avatar Josie Barlow

When Sema and I left Sarah’s house after filming her family for our Christmas Appeal, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. I felt such warmth towards her very cute boys, partly because I have a seven year old son, Jed, and Zac really reminded me of him. I had this overwhelming desire for everything to be ‘fixed’ and for good things to flow towards this family.

The reality is that not only is Sarah confined to a wheelchair, but she also has a terminal illness. She has lost 65% of her lung capacity in just three years and there is little that doctors can do to halt the destruction. She has been told that in the end, she will suffocate. I can’t even begin to imagine being told that news and having to deal with your worst fears of leaving your boys alone in the world.

This made me so grateful that she called CAP and met people from her local church when she did. Before CAP, not only did she have all her health issues to deal with, but she was also bringing up her boys alone after her previous partner went to prison, leaving her in £30,000 of debt; she had all the pressure of debt to deal with as well – the last thing she needed.

Now though, she is free from the constant worry and fear caused by debt. She has met wonderful friends through her church and has become a Christian, which means she now has an eternal hope. Her new partner has become a Christian too and they even got married last year.

So she now has eternal life, a new husband, Mark (who I could just sense was such a good, compassionate man – I’m sure he’ll be a great dad to Zac and Louie), and they have a fresh start ahead of them, free from debt.

But I want more for Sarah. Please will you join me in praying for her health, as we have a God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Watch Zac and Louie's story

Josie Barlow is CAP's Communications Director. You can find out more about Josie and our leadership team in the who's who section of the website

The most wonderful year I’ve seen for some time…

calendar01 December 2013

John Kirkby's avatar John Kirkby

Well, here I am waiting to leave my hotel to travel to Toronto Airport for the ten hour trip back to the UK, and I just felt I needed to record what I've witnessed over the last four days here. To be honest, it’s more to do with what I've seen since we started the CAP Canada journey over the last 18 months. It’s strange to think of all we have been through and all God has done. I’m used to seeing miracles (because I always need them!), however what I've witnessed here has really taken my breath away.

First, I really did take some persuading about coming to Canada. It took well over a year for me to really get a sense of peace from God about it. I’ve no idea why it took so long or why I struggled to find the peace but, hey, it’s always important you are honest – if you're not sure, always say you're not sure.

Then by last October, very much led by the faith of Helen Johnson, who was our UK Director of Centre Development at that time, we agreed to begin preparation. Helen really knew God was calling her to Canada and, without her faith, I’m not sure we would have pioneered into a new country. It took six months to get everything ready and then, together with Will MacLaughlin, one of our centre managers form Northern Ireland, Helen flew out to Toronto to make a start.

And here we are now! Wow – what a nine months of progress! From just a few names and a couple of churches who said they would be interested, we have seen massive favour from God. CAP Canada is now truly up and moving! We have 41 churches running the CAP Money Course, with 88 CAP Money Coaches trained. More importantly for us in terms of reaching the poor, we have established our first four CAP Debt Centres and have 30 clients on their way to becoming debt free. It’s working! Just last week we saw our first client choose to become a Christian too.

We needed $170,000 to cover the initial costs, establish the staff team and set off. On Friday night when we held our first ever fundraising dinner in Toronto, we raised $37,000 from just 70 generous Canadians. This $35,000, when added to the other income we've seen this year, means we haven’t just covered the $170,000 we needed – we might even have a few $1000s towards 2014! We also have 150 Life Changers giving every month! It’s been some time since I've seen God's hand so clearly in something. 

We are definitely on our way now here in Canada. We are looking to open at least six more debt centres next year and partner with another 40 churches to run the CAP Money Course. We’ll see our ministry really get ready to expand throughout Canada. It's such a privilege to be used by God to see his kingdom come. I just can't quite believe it’s 17 years since it all started in my bedroom office with £10 and a heart to see lives changed. Here I am 5,000 miles from home, in awe at my generous and gracious God, who is able to truly do more than you can dream or imagine.

I’m looking forward to going home to see Lizzie and the kids and having some time to reflect on the most wonderful year I've seen for some time.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

calendar22 November 2013

Phill Holdsworth's avatar Phill Holdsworth

As Head of External Affairs at CAP, it is my job to stay up-to-date with developments in the credit industry and get involved with discussions about how to improve poverty and debt relief on a national scale. But I also have first hand experience of debt. Both as a youngster growing up in a broken family environment, and as an adult coping with a spate of redundancies and trying to provide for my family. I fully understand the emotional trauma that accompanies financial strains, and it is my personal experience which has made me so passionate about speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Although I don’t directly support vulnerable clients one-on-one, I ensure that CAP has a say on industry matters that impact them. My role is to liaise with the policy-writers and decision-makers who are in a position to influence change that will benefit our clients now and in the future.

For example, I recently had the opportunity to input into a key report on personal debt in the UK. As a member of the Serious Personal Debt Working Group for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), I was asked to contribute to their research into how debt is impacting people in our nation. Through our own case studies, we were able to tell stories of our clients that include the concerns of some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. These stories represent thousands more that are still hidden behind closed doors, so to be able to give a voice to them is invaluable. They get to be heard by the people who have the power to change their lives.

The report, Maxed Out, was published this week by the CSJ, a social policy think tank which is right at the heart of getting social justice onto the political agenda. The report stresses the need for proactive steps to be taken to address the root causes of debt, and makes policy recommendations to they key decision makers. Many reports published by the CSJ have already shaped and informed government policy and influenced opposition parties. We hope this will do the same.

Maxed Out has already made headlines, leading to further opportunities to speak up about poverty through national media. Several of our clients were able to share what debt was really like for them on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme and on BBC Five Live. We are working to give our clients a platform to speak out nationally and, through the media, we are able to reach others who are still struggling to tell them that there is hope and a solution to their debt problems.

This is just one of the many ways in which I am building the profile of Christians Against Poverty to be recognised as a key stakeholder in the credit industry. Our opinion matters. There are so many other important events connected with debt management and the credit industry, which I am attending over the next few weeks – too many to mention all together here. But what it all says is that CAP has a clear and resolute voice in this industry. Government departments like the DWP and specific members of Parliament are listening to us and taking note of the work we’re doing. They are keen to help us bring about positive change. These are the signals of a new forecast – the winds of change.

From the inside out – CAP and the credit industry

calendar07 November 2013

Dawn Stobart's avatar Dawn Stobart

With the government cracking down on the likes of Wonga, QuickQuid and various other payday lenders who have been defending their lending practices in Parliament, CAP is also working to tackle the issue on another front. By working with these companies, CAP is a voice for the vulnerable, influencing policy from the inside.

My team, the Creditor Liaison Unit, is in the business of ‘speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves’. We work with over one thousand creditors, from high street banks to payday lender, to get the best results for our clients; to get them out of debt as quickly as possible and to protect them from the storm of collection activity until they get there.

My particular role involves liaising with the movers and shakers of the credit industry to impress upon them that the clients they are dealing with are not just figures and boxes to tick, but real people with real lives – and real problems. We challenge existing procedures and highlight the need to change their processes.

In fact, in recent weeks, CAP has been approached by five credit companies seeking a personal consultation about their vulnerable clients, asking how they can improve their policies and implement a better system for dealing with particularly desperate clients compassionately. It’s a domino effect and CAP is pushing the boundaries in order to see change for the people who need it – one step, and credit company, at a time.

This month, three companies have offered to provide Christmas hampers to local CAP Debt Centres for clients living in poverty, and one has offered to provide food and clothing for clients in their local area. Two national creditors, and a third pending, are actively getting involved in CAP Job Clubs and the important work that is being pioneered by our team. This reflects their growing compassion and awareness of the value of offering practical and emotional support to clients through the trauma of debt repayment.

CAP has an integral role in shaping the credit industry and affecting change on a daily and weekly basis. We communicate to credit companies that what they regularly read as ‘won’t pay’ is often simply, ‘can’t pay’. We stand in the gap between companies and our clients and make sure that the voice of the voiceless and oppressed is heard - and it is through this that we are changing the policy of these companies from the inside out.

Payday loans – a response

calendar08 August 2013

Matt Barlow's avatar Matt Barlow

On 25 July, our PR switchboard hit the roof as the Archbishop of Canterbury went public with his desire to 'compete' payday lenders out of business. The UK wanted to know what we thought, no doubt to get both an opinion and probably looking for a dissenting voice. They didn't get any dissension from us – we are big fans of Justin Welby, who is a servant-hearted, Christ-centred, man of God. I believe he will be great for the Anglican church (and as the denomination with the highest number of CAP Debt Centres, we are interested!).

At CAP, we have seen the rise of payday lenders over the last few years, having to adapt some of our policies to handle this new element of the industry. As well as doing this, we have done what we always do: engage with these new companies, plead the case of the debtor and use our relationship to positively influence their policies to benefit vulnerable clients. While we do all of this with the utmost of respect, we have to acknowledge that this form of credit causes greater consternation than pretty much anything we've ever seen, excepting of course illegal loan sharks. It is simply wrong that someone should get approved for a loan so quickly, with so little thought being applied as to whether they can afford to pay it back. 

As a result of the credit crunch, the ease with which one can get credit has changed dramatically. It is simply much harder to get credit nowadays. You have to do so much more to prove you can afford it and that you are a 'good' risk, and that is a really good thing! However, as the mainstream lenders have re-introduced some common sense to their lending practices, the payday lenders have stepped into the gap. Taking the opportunity of little competition, they are charging huge interest rates. The other day, I read a yet another story of a lady driven to attempt suicide. Right at the heart of her story was the desperation of having to resort to getting payday loans to feed herself and the terror of having to handle these companies as they chased their debts. Thankfully, CAP now stands in the gap and most of the payday lenders 'play ball' and cooperate with us, but every new company needs winning over!

So, here at CAP, we are grateful that the Archbishop has spoken up. This issue needs to be in the government space, because this new sector of the industry is causing pain and injustice. We, the Church, must speak up about this issue and do something practical to help those caught in the midst of it. 

As for Credit Unions? People will always need credit and, for the poor of this land, to have Credit Unions as an answer to payday lenders or doorstep lenders would be a brilliant thing. As for putting payday lenders out of business? Well, we've always thought big at CAP and that is one audacious vision that Justin Welby is taking on! For us, we're praying that with God's help this vision can become a reality and that at the heart of every Credit Union, there will be the CAP Money Course providing the education to prevent borrowing in the first place.

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