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Add your voice to help families living in poverty during coronavirus

calendar14 May 2020

Rachel Gregory's avatar Rachel Gregory

Add your voice to help families living in poverty during coronavirus

Lone parents face the biggest financial shock waves due to coronavirus. In April alone, an additional 216,000 single parent families were found to be living on extremely low incomes, with less than £500 to see them through the month, according to Turn2us. 

In a just and compassionate society, our social security system should anchor people when the financial impacts of coronavirus crash down upon them. Unfortunately for many, the help on offer falls short. 

The benefit cap is a limit on the total amount of benefit you can get each year. It currently affects 79,000 families, and is set to impact many of the 1.8 million new Universal Credit claimants too. This means they will not receive extra money from the Government’s cash injections to Universal Credit that are intended to help people in poverty stay afloat during the outbreak. 

 

The benefit cap

The benefit cap is set at £20,000 for families (with children) living outside of London and £23,000 a year for those in London. 

The families most likely to be affected by the cap live in high-rent areas and typically have two or more children. On average, they lose out on between £48 and £53 a week because of the cap - money they cannot afford to lose. Of those that replied to CAP’s recent Facebook poll, more than half (55%) of people affected by the benefit cap said it meant that their family always went without.* 

 

Lone parents going under

Following a relationship breakdown, Megan**, contacted CAP for help with debt. Now a lone parent to her three children, aged 7, 9 and 17, she relies on Universal Credit to support her family. She is entitled to £1,893 a month, but her payments are reduced by £604 because of the benefit cap and Local Housing Allowance limits.

In April, when the Government increased Universal Credit and Local Housing Allowance limits, it promised an extra £203 a month for the family. Yet the cap means that they see none of this, leaving the family of four (after paying their rent) just £358 a month to live on.

Seven in ten households affected by the benefit cap are headed by lone parents like Megan. 

Last month, one such parent told the cross-party group of MPs who scrutinise the work of the Department of Work and Pensions that the benefit cap meant she struggled to pay basic bills. She said “My children are my priority. If that means I don't eat, I won't.”

 

Breakdown of social security 

Economists refer to social security benefits as ‘automatic stabilisers’ - payments that kick in to steady households and the economy when storms hit. The reality is that the benefit cap stops lone parent families receiving all the vital support they need. 

The cap was brought in to incentivise people to find paid work or move to cheaper housing, yet in a recent blog, the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted that there is little evidence that the policy is successful in economically stable times. At a time like we are currently facing, finding work or moving home is even more difficult. 

CAP is calling on the Government to suspend the benefits cap during the outbreak, in order to help households who are already pushed to the brink. We joined with Shelter and other anti-poverty charities to send this message to the Chancellor. The government needs to know that people across the UK want to see more support for families living in poverty during coronavirus.  

Your voice can make a difference, email your MP here.

 

*There were 40 respondents to the poll which ran on CAP’s Facebook page 10 May 2020.
**Name has been changed.

When the poorest cry out, is anyone listening?

calendar07 May 2020

Kiri Saunders's avatar Kiri Saunders

When the poorest cry out, is anyone listening?

Our latest research shows the shocking revelation that one in ten of our clients has no bed or mattress to sleep on. If this is the picture of problem debt now, what does a post pandemic UK look like?

 

This is the question we must ask following on from the Client report we’ve just published exploring the latest debt trends, as well as the difference CAP’s services made in 2019. The report is a cornerstone piece of research that our External Affairs team use to show industry and government the picture of poverty in the UK.

It’s a harsh reminder of the level of debt and poverty many of our clients are facing every day. The average income for new client households in 2019, after housing costs, was £12,579, meaning that  81% of CAP clients have an income lower than the national average, and almost half (48%) are living below the poverty line. 

 

This level of low income meant that two thirds of  CAP clients borrowed money in order to pay another bill or debt, and six in ten borrowed money in order to pay for food, clothes or other essentials.  Living in debt also impacts health. Three in four of the people we help said debt negatively affected their health, with many seeking help from a GP for a debt related illness. 

 

In light of the pandemic

Covid-19 (coronavirus) is being felt by everyone but the poorest are least able to weather the storm As the global economy is set to suffer for years to come,household debts will continue to grow and we’re expecting to get even busier. 

The hard-hitting picture painted by this  report - which uses 2019 data - makes us very concerned for the future.

 

The good news

But let’s talk about some good news in all of this. In 2019, CAP helped 22,778 people to change their story. We celebrated with more than 2,000 households who became debt free, and walked many more along the road to a more hopeful and positive future.

We are so thankful to all of you who donated to our crisis appeal. Your donations mean that we can continue to run our emergency support line, which is providing hundreds of households with  vital emergency food shops, fuel vouchers and phone top-ups. 

 

Sarah Elson, who works in CAP’s Network Management team, is coordinating our response.

 Sarah Elson 

‘CAP has always operated an emergency aid fund for debt clients who are in desperate need of support with food and energy top-ups. However, now due to the coronavirus pandemic we are seeing clients being pushed harder than ever into difficult circumstances. This includes things like changes to employment, reduced working hours, people waiting for benefits or an increase in mental health difficulties.

When lockdown began, CAP decided to offer support to a wider range of people and develop what it was supporting people with. The emergency aid line now helps by providing food shops, fuel vouchers and phone top-ups. By having three different options for aid, we've been able to address material needs for food and power, as well as allowing people to stay connected to family and vital support services.

Our partner churches have stepped up to meet the needs of their communities in so many ways. In the last four weeks, CAP has been able to support them by providing aid for more than 150 CAP clients. This support helps frontline staff to build relationships with their clients and group services members, and provides a lifeline for many during an especially difficult and uncertain time.’ 
 

We cannot take our foot off the pedal right now.

The financial impacts of coronavirus are going to be long lasting and, for thousands, this pandemic will be the tipping point into financial crisis. We need to respond now to make sure CAP can be there for them when they call us.

Will you give today and bring hope to someone plunged into financial darkness by the coronavirus pandemic?

Launching our Church Resources page

calendar06 May 2020

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Launching our Church Resources page

We’ve been blown away by the UK Church's incredible response to coronavirus (COVID-19). You are showing incredible generosity to the deprived, bringing hope to the desperate and serving the vulnerable with compassion. Many in need are struggling more than ever, but despite the challenges facing us all, the Church is as active and alive as ever.

CAP exists to equip and empower the Church to serve the poorest and most vulnerable in this nation. And at this time of desperate need, we want to share our knowledge and experience to help your church provide crucial support to your community.

CAP’s Church Resources

We’re excited to be launching our Church Resource page. A place where, over the coming days and weeks, we will be adding resources that draw on the experience of hundreds of our partner churches across this nation, as well as CAP's own knowledge and expertise.

It can feel daunting when faced with such a huge need. But we hope these free tools will equip you and your church to effectively serve with confidence and continue to offer the hope of Jesus in your communities during this crisis.

What resources can I expect?

We understand the pressures that church leaders are facing during this time as you seek to guide your congregation through unknown territory, and respond to the need in your local area. So we have gathered resources that we hope provide support to you, your church, and your community. Expect to find:

  • Information on Government and industry support
  • Signposting to organisations providing additional specialist support, for individuals and churches
  • Practical advice on how to serve those in need in your community, starting with our new project: Pathways out of Poverty

We’re committed to supporting you throughout this crisis, and we’ll be working on further content over the next few months. So be sure to check in to the resource page regularly and keep an eye on our social media to be kept up to date with new resources as they’re available.

Thank you for the amazing work you’re doing amongst your congregation and wider community at the moment. God is continuing to use his Church in amazing ways during this time, and we can’t wait to hear of more lives impacted and transformed.

An open letter to the First Ministers of Northern Ireland

calendar04 May 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

An open letter to the First Ministers of Northern Ireland

Mrs Arlene Foster MLA and Ms Michelle O’Neill MLA
First Ministers of Northern Ireland
Stormont Castle
Belfast
BT4 3TT

Dear First Ministers,
We are writing to you as leaders of Christian charities in Northern Ireland to offer our support to you
and the Executive at this time.
Our organisations and networks across Northern Ireland are used to stepping up and finding solutions,
creating community, and inspiring and resourcing people to act compassionately. Right now, in the most
difficult of times, we are doing what Jesus told us to do: to love our neighbour.
The Church has a body of highly motivated and experienced volunteers, on the ground in our cities,
towns and villages. Equipped by our charities they are:
● Helping communities manage their money and deal with personal debt
● Informing and supporting those needing government help
● Delivering food parcels to vulnerable people
● Ensuring children in poverty are prioritised
● Supporting young people in their wellbeing and mental health
● Supporting people in recovery from addictions
● Positively intervening in homelessness and rough sleeping
● Building communities and supporting families in a wide range of challenging situations
● Providing befriending and support to prison leavers
● Reaching those who are not online and ensure they are cared for
● Helping people stay healthy and positive, especially those with poor mental health
● Connecting those who want to give and volunteer with those in need
● Bringing hope and addressing loneliness at a very local level

We have been working locally in communities across the North and beyond and we stand ready to work
strategically in partnership with the Executive, local government and agencies at every level to ensure
the best possible response at this time. Please let us know how we can best work with the Government
to direct our specialist resources and volunteer networks to most effective use.
We also recognise that we will need to increasingly work together in the coming months as the country
begins to face the reality of a significant economic downturn, when charities and the Church will be
more needed than ever. We ourselves will not be immune to this downturn and anticipate reductions in
our own income, as across the whole charity sector.
We are committed for the long haul, but with this changing landscape we will also need the Executive to
stand with us – not for our own sake but for those we serve – to ensure this valuable work can meet the
growing need of the coming months and years. We are grateful for the steps the Executive has already
taken to support the sector and we look forward to positive engagement over the coming months as we
work together for the benefit of this place and all our people.
Thank you for your leadership and be assured of our prayers for you and the Executive at this time.
Yours sincerely,

David Smyth, Head of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland

Alison Flanagan, National Leader, Christians Against Poverty, Northern Ireland

The Reverend Brian Anderson, Mission Superintendent, East Belfast Mission

Mike Royal, Co-CEO, Cinnamon Network UK

Keeva Watson, Regional Development Manager Northern Ireland, Redeeming Our Communities

Diane Holt, Head of Thrive Ireland

Howard Davey, General Secretary, Belfast YMCA

Tony Silcock, CEO, Youth Iniitiatives

Ricky Wright, Chief Executive, Vineyard Compassion

Rev David Rock, The Big House Ireland

£20 makes all the difference

calendar04 May 2020

Kiri Saunders's avatar Kiri Saunders

£20 makes all the difference

‘An extra £20 a week would mean I wouldn't have to worry about being evicted.’

At the end of March we heard the good news that, because of coronavirus, the Government was going to raise Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit payments by £20 per week for the next twelve months. This would mean that some people could get over £1,000 more a year. For those who are living on a low income, such as many of our clients here at Christians Against Poverty (CAP), this additional money will go a long way. 

 

The problem 

But sadly, not everyone in need will be better off. Those still on the ‘old style’ benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), aren’t included in this help. In real terms, that’s 2.83 million households and one in four (23%) CAP client households. 

On Facebook, we asked people who currently receive Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment Support Allowance a question: What would an extra £20 per week mean to you? 103 people responded.

  • 82% said that £20 would go towards paying basic living costs 
  • 18% said it would buy them occasional home comforts 

Analysis from a cross-party group of MPs responsible for examining the work of the Department for Work and Pensions (the Work and Pensions Select Committee) found the same. Their research showed that 63% of Employment Support Allowance claimants felt that the money they receive is not enough to cover basic living needs (including rent, food, internet, gas and electricity). A further 23% said that it was enough, but they had to cut back in other areas to make things balance.

 

The reality 

Fiona* receives Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and is finding that her money is not stretching far enough. Relying on food parcels and help from others, £20 more a week would go a long way. 

‘I recently lost my Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and also my Disability Living Allowance (DLA), so now I am only receiving JSA. It’s ridiculous. How are we supposed to live? Everybody on Universal Credit is getting £20 a week more. I’ve only just got out of debt with CAP. It’s really bad. I’m going to end up back in debt. 
I’m on a pay as you go phone, and I’m about to run out of internet access. I don’t have the money to top up my credit. I don’t have a phone or internet in my house. My family lives in Ireland but I’m not going to be online and I won’t be able to phone them as I won’t have any credit. It’s been horrible these last few weeks. 
I’ve had food deliveries from the foodbank, which has helped. I have to think positively. At least I have a roof over my head. But an extra £20 a week would mean I wouldn't have to worry about being evicted.’

 

What next?

We don’t want to watch from the sideline. That is why CAP is calling on the Government to increase Job Seeker’s Allowance and Employment Support Allowance by £20 per week, in line with the income boost given to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit claimants. To find out more about what CAP is calling for, read our policy statement. 


*Names have been changed for anonymity 

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