Amid the conflict, drama and, too often, scandal of politics, it is easy to forget that politicians hope to make a positive difference to the lives of other people. We may disagree about methods but every decent politician wants to lift people out of poverty.
One of the five pathways to poverty identified by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is serious personal debt. The others are family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness and addictions. These are often experienced together.
Helping people with debt is the subject of today’s Love Wycombe Pentecost celebration in the centre of High Wycombe.
Providing debt help – Christians Against Poverty
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is an award-winning charity working across the UK to lift people out of debt and poverty. They offer free debt counselling through a network of 260 debt centres based in local churches, including King’s Church for CAP Debt Help and Christ the Servant King for CAP Money Courses.
CAP Debt Help includes five steps: a home visit, an effective budget, paying debts, dealing with severe debt through insolvency if necessary and finally becoming debt free. The service is without charge and includes negotiation of affordable payments to creditors, a debt management plan and administration of those payments under the plan.
The CAP Money Course teaches people budgeting skills with a simple cash-based system that works. People take control of their finances so they can budget, save and prevent debt.
Mutual aid through credit unions
Once people are in a position to budget and save, credit unions can help. Local people have worked hard to deliver the South Buckinghamshire Community Bank with M for Money Credit Union.
Credit Unions are financial cooperatives. They allow people to express solidarity through mutual support: they pay dividends to their members, not shareholders. Credit unions still make money through loans but, after administration costs, building reserves and developing the business, that money is paid back to savers.
In addition to a Basic Savings Account, the Community Bank offers a Christmas Savings Club which is paid out in the last week of November, a Holiday Savings Account to help people prepare for special occasions and a Back to School Savings Account to take the pain out of the September return to school.
The credit union will make manageable loans of up to three times what has been saved in the basic savings account up to a ceiling of £17,500. Interest rates are fixed at 2% of the outstanding balance per month with reductions available. There are no charges for arrangement, credit checking, early payments or additional payments and there is free loan protection insurance.
Why does this matter?
Each working day, CAP rescues nine people who were on the brink of suicide. More than 5000 people become homeless each year because of rent or mortgage debts. In 2011, almost half of households in the lowest income decile were spending more than a quarter of their income on debt repayments. Around 3 million low-income households have no savings, so they have to borrow at high rates to cover unexpected costs.
Debt is of concern not due to its absolute level but because of its size relative to income and therefore the ability of its holder to repay without serious consequences for wellbeing. As both CAP and the CSJ explain, debt can be crippling. People in serious debt face hunger, eviction, chronic anxiety and the desperation which comes from a life without hope. Post goes unopened and matters escalate with oppressive phone calls, bailiffs and all the rest.
Debt can ruin lives.
Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full (Jn 10:10). Our Christian duty to love our neighbour as ourselves requires that we help people out of debt, out of poverty and into full and free lives.
That’s why the establishment of CAP debt help and South Buckinghamshire Community Bank is so important to Wycombe. I hope both will be widely supported by people of all faiths and none, but at this Pentecost celebration, especially by my brothers and sisters in Christ.
- “Maxed Out – Serious personal debt in Britain“, CSJ, 2013
- Christians Against Poverty
- M for Money, the home of South Buckinghamshire Community Bank
- “Drink, Drugs & Democracy“, 2012 – a documentary on my time in rehab with Acorn Treatment through the Centre for Social Justice