THE Church is in the forefront of a “generational change” in attitudes to money and debt, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday.
“The people on the edge always suffer the most; they turn to payday lenders for an extra few pounds a month that accumulates debts of thousands, and brings them to the edge of despair. We know that is wrong.”
Archbishop Welby was speaking at a special evensong in east London to commission 50 “credit champions”, parishioners trained to lead the Church of England’s charge against loan-sharks through the use of affordable credit through credit unions.
Money could be a “slavemaster of the utmost cruelty” without grace and guidance, he told them.
The commissioning, at St George-in-the-East, Shadwell, marks a new phase in the financial-services scheme being rolled out by the Church Credit Champions Network (CCCN).
The Network, which is run by the Centre for Theology and Community and the Church Urban Fund, was launched in May 2014 with pilots in the dioceses of Southwark, Liverpool, and London (News, 30 May 2014).
It was formed in response to Archbishop Welby’s promise to “compete” payday loan providers, such as Wonga, out of existence (News, 25 July 2013).
His comments sparked the C of E-backed initiative #ToYourCredit, which resulted in the formation of the Churches Mutual Credit Union (CMCU).
So far, the scheme has trained 150 credit champions to give information and advice to people struggling with debt. More than 200 churches have been involved, and a target of 3000 new credit-union members is close to being achieved.
The plan is now to roll out the scheme to another 27 dioceses. This will bring in thousands more churches over the next two years, and an estimated 6000 credit champions will be trained. The scheme has the potential to reach two-and-a-half million people when fully operational.
CCCN believes that it can put a figure on the scheme’s benefit. A press release states: “It is estimated that this activity will generate a social return of around £7.50 for every £1 invested in the programme, largely through reduced interest payments as people use low-cost credit unions rather than payday and other high-interest companies.”
By this measure, the first stage is on track to generate £2.2 million in social value.
The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, led the campaign in the diocese of London and joined Archbishop Welby at the commissioning.
“I’ve been passionate about credit unions ever since I was a young vicar on an estate in Sheffield, and saw first-hand the suffering caused by exploitative lending,” he said.
Archbishop Welby said in his address that he was humbled to have witnessed the Church’s response to “the tyranny of finance” since the 2008 recession. “The forces of finance had become dominant in our society. People were borrowing more and more to keep the volume of consumerism turning. . . You saw the need and met it with love, grace, and hope.”
In February last year, Archbishop Welby appointed the former chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, Sir Hector Sants, to lead the Church’s task force on credit unions.
Last week, Sir Hector called on the wealthy to lend to credit unions and co-operatives in order to raise their profile. He told the Financial Times on Friday: “Credit unions promote resilience and competition, and fill a gap for those who are excluded from mainstream banking.”
The co-ordinator for CCCN, Tom Newbold, also writing last week, described challenging injustice as “a biblical and missional imperative. The scale and locality of churches across the UK enables a momentous opportunity for change to the financial system and the lives of many individuals.”
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