Tales from the church bread line

by
26 June 2015

In their own words: three people helped out of debt talked to Rebecca Paveley.

And Kieran Dodds photographed and listened to three foodbank users

Kieran Dodds/Panos

Stacked up: a stained-glass window, now obscured by towers of boxes, inside Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank in Christ Church, Fulham. Volunteers meet customers, and offer a hot drink and some cake before an interview is carried out to assess the person's needs. After this, specially selected bags of food are made up

Stacked up: a stained-glass window, now obscured by towers of boxes, inside Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank in Christ Church, Fulham. Volunteers mee...

THE charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) was the vision of one man, who found himself deep in debt after borrowing to keep up his businesses and his lavish lifestyle. Owing £76,000, John Kirkby was forced to rent out his only asset, his home, to a Norwegian pastor, who invited him to come to his church.

Mr Kirkby became a Christian; but his fortunes did not immediately turn around. His marriage of 12 years failed, and he was left camping out in a friend's bedroom, struggling to feed his two daughters when they came to visit. He found work again in the financial services industry, but, after two years, felt that God was calling him to give up his career and use his knowledge of financial services to help the poor.

Armed with just a meagre donation, he set up CAP in a back room in his home town of Bradford, in 1996. Nineteen years later, the charity has opened 280 debt centres; expanded into Australia, New Zealand, and Canada; has a staff of 260 in its head office, and thousands more volunteers; and provides debt help for almost 16,000 people a year.

The Church of England is very involved: more than 20 per cent of CAP debt-centres are in Anglican churches; other churches run CAP job-clubs; and hundreds more have been trained to provide CAP courses on money. The charity is run entirely on donations from its 26,000 regular supporters. This year, the Archbishop of Canterbury became its first patron.

 

THE story of the hunger gap in Britain remains hidden behind closed doors, writes Kieran Dodds,  illustrated only by neat stacks of tins and pasta. These images show the impact of emergency food aid - three days of three square meals - in the homes of those who have experienced the need and the shame of asking for assistance.

Stories of personal sacrifice are common among foodbank users. Parents going hungry to keep their children fed, or people having to choose between eating a third meal or keeping the heating on. Almost every week, foodbanks spring up in village halls and church centres to meet the growing demand. Although difficult to quantify, the largest network of foodbanks in the UK, the Trussell Trust, fed nearly one million people in 2013/14 - more than double the year before, and a huge leap from only 25,000 five years previously.

Food prices in the UK have continued to increase, rising by 43.5 per cent over the eight years to July 2013. Fuel and accommodation has become more expensive as well, despite a recent drop in oil prices; and wages have not kept up with these rises. Many foodbank users report that one of the main reasons for their trouble is delayed welfare payments. But there is no "typical" foodbank user. As prices rise and the gap between rich and poor widens, more and more people find themselves caught in a vicious circle of poverty.

 

Susan is married to Robin and they have three children, who have all now left home, and four grandchildren.

I HAD to stop work because of my health, and then my husband lost his job due to illness; so we were both out of work. Robin had a back problem, and suffered from depression. We had been used to having good money, and we had nice cars, and everything we needed; but then we lost all that money we'd been used to, and had to survive on benefits. The debts began building up, and it became overwhelming for us both. On some of our loans, we had to pay huge amounts of interest.

We were renting a property from the council, and my husband was so worried about the debts that he became suicidal: he attempted to take his own life twice. At the worst of it, we owed £14,000.

We came across the number for CAP - I can't now remember if someone gave it to us, or I found it - and approached them to make an appointment; but then we cancelled it. We just couldn't go through with it. But, a couple of months later, we had a good talk and decided to try again, and we made another appointment.

Angela came round to see us at home. She looked at all the paperwork, and said we needed to give back the car, which was on HP. Angela asked us if she could pray, and my husband said: "No way. You are not praying in my house."

So the car went back, and all the TV packages like Sky went back; and, at first, my husband felt even worse. He felt as if everything was being taken away from him. He blamed God for it - and everybody else.

But when Angela came a second time, he started to calm down; and when she asked again if she could pray, he said yes. She told us how we could pay off our debts, and she brought round some food. We were both in tears - not of sadness, but of happiness.

Neither of us had had anything to do with church, but Angela invited us to a CAP client meeting in the church building. There was a talk, and then we met other people; and then Angela said we could stay, if we wanted to, for the church meeting. My husband was quite content to stay; so we did. We watched the church service, and felt so comfortable and happy there that we haven't been away since, and that was two years ago.

Six months later, we were debt-free. My husband still can't work; I'm his carer, but I also volunteer at church, and with CAP. We're still on benefits, but we manage so much better now. As soon as we get our money, we go and buy our food and pay the bills.

We were baptised last month, and we are so happy; we feel like we've come home.

We are happy to share our story with others, to try to help them. We've spoken to several people already to say to them: "We know what you are going through," and to tell them where they can get help.

Robin is so much better these days. He's a lot stronger in himself: more communicative, and open with everybody. Someone told me recently that he glows! The church has helped us so much; it has given me confidence to stand up and get involved.

  

Mandy  is married to John, and they have two teenage boys

WE FELL into debt through ill health and depression. I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic, and suffer from fibromyalgia. My husband worked, but he didn't earn a lot of money as a manual worker and we had two boys to feed.

We'd got into trouble through taking out doorstep loans. People come to the door with money in their hands, at times when you are especially vulnerable, like Christmas. They have the cash there and then, and you just don't look at the small print. And then you are tempted to take out another loan, to pay off the earlier debts. And then you find you're going round and round in circles. You feel like you are on your own in when you are in the middle of a situation like this.

Now, what I want to do is to talk to other people and tell my story, so that other people know they're not the only ones going through something like this.

At the worst point, we weren't really eating. My husband would do a full day's hard work, and I'd only be able to give him beans on toast in the evening. I don't know how he didn't fall ill himself; I think now that God was sustaining him. None of us were eating properly.

I was volunteering at my local church when one of the ladies there mentioned CAP. I was struggling with depression and with debt, but I made a conscious decision that I needed to try and find some answers to my problems.

I started going to church regularly, and enjoyed it; and I eventually plucked up the courage to phone CAP. Janet and Elizabeth came round to see me. Janet asked me if she could pray with me, and I said yes. It took them about three weeks to come up with a solution and a budget plan. They worked out that it would take us 27½ years to pay off all our debts, as we owed about £60,000, and they told us to file for bankruptcy.

My husband and I had thought about it before, but we didn't have the money we needed to file: it cost £1400 as a couple. But, through CAP, a wonderful company came up with the money for us. It was an answer to prayer, as we just couldn't find the money to do it ourselves.

In August 2013, we filed for bankruptcy. A year later, we were discharged after we'd stayed debt-free for 12 months. Throughout it all, CAP were wonderful. They didn't say, "How did you get yourself into this mess?", but they listened, and helped us practically. They said things like: "We are all guilty of spending too much"; and that, if you can pay your bills and put food on the table, you are blessed. They didn't make us feel demeaned.

After that first visit, CAP brought round six bags of food. It was amazing. We couldn't believe at first that people wanted to do things for us, without charging us anything. They are such nice people, and they are doing it all for God. I have never looked back since I became a Christian. But CAP don't mind if you choose not to go to church, or explore your faith. They will help you whatever; they won't abandon you.

My faith has given me such strength. It helps me to cope with the pain of my condition. John comes with me to church, and my eldest boy does, too, but the youngest hasn't made his mind up yet.

CAP lifted such a weight from my shoulders. They were a gift from God for us.

 

Neville is married to Karen, and they have three children. Both Neville and Karen are unable to work because of ill health

WITHOUT CAP, I wouldn't be here now. Things got so bad for me that I tried to take my own life, and I was sectioned to a psychiatric ward. The amount of debt we'd got into was so much that I thought taking my life was the only way out. I now know that, even if I'd done that, the debt wouldn't have gone.

We fell into debt from trying to make the house nicer. I bought a television, and it went on from there, buying other things for the house, until we owed £5000. I ordered too many things, and it was only when the repayments started coming in that I realised I didn't have the money to pay them.

I started going to friends and asking them to lend me money to buy things - essentials - but then I had to pay them back, and so I had no money left to meet the repayments. I was frantic, and really, really scared. There was no food in the house. I couldn't face putting my family through any more pain.

I tried to take my life; and ended up in a psychiatric ward. I stayed there for nine weeks. It was when I came out that I saw a leaflet for CAP, and I thought: They are Christians, I'll try them - anything to stop me from going back into hospital again.

They were great on the phone, and then Sally came round, and she gave me all the forms I needed. She and her husband are wonderful: they are still friends to us today.

Sally helped us to budget, and showed how we could pay off the debts. CAP also gave us food, and helped us to find some furniture. It took us a quite a while to pay off our debts, but we've now been debt-free for a year.

We had a letter inviting us to a dinner dance at CAP, and John Kirkby came up to us and told us we'd won the "Overcomers Award" for getting over our debts. We've been given a night away in a hotel anywhere we like; it's our silver anniversary next year, so we are saving it for that.

Neither Karen or I have been able to work because of ill health, but I am seeing an adviser next week, because I want to do something. I hope to get some part-time work. I don't want people to think I'm just sitting back, claiming off the Government. I want to do something with my time.

And, if I can do anything for CAP, I will. Without them, I wouldn't be here. John Kirkby has done a fantastic thing in setting it up, and helped so many people. And, because he's been there himself, he knows what it's like for those who are still in the middle of it.

 

www.capuk.org

 

Robert, Paisley

I USED the foodbank [twice] last week, and first used it on 23 September last year. I was sanctioned at the time.

I had never heard about it until last year. I've been sanctioned a couple of times. If you miss one appointment, they can sanction you for six weeks. I've known people to get sanctioned for months. I was due to be paid on Wednesday, but wasn't paid; so went to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I've got a bad back, and suffer from depression. It's an old motorbike injury from when I was a teenager. My back is away. Eight or nine years ago, I did landscape gardening part-time, 16 to 30 hours a week. I ended up losing my house through rent arrears. I ended up homeless, on the streets. That was the hardest time in my life.

Foodbank is a blessing for people like myself. I can't take medication [for depression] without food. I have seen people up there with little children. People look at foodbankers like they're old junkies, but it's normal people like myself who have got no choice. You can't afford to live these days. The cost of living has gone up, but what the Government gives you is going nowhere. Doesn't cover the electricity and gas bills.

I've been depressed for years, since my mum passed away 25 years ago. We were really close. I would like the Government to actually be a bit more considerate for people like us. Jobs are very hard to find these days. I feel happy for the help, but I feel kind of embarrassed, sometimes. I've always been independent.

 

Kevin and Angela  Chatham, Kent

WE WERE putting all our money on the electricity and gas. If there was food in the house, I made sure the other three were eating, and starved myself, which, according to my consultant, was not a good move.

I spoke to the school, and they said go to the foodbank. For two months, I wouldn't go. I won't go cap-in-hand. I'm already sponging off society, in my eyes.

And she said, not with what you've got: you banged your head, you've got to take your handouts.

I've had epilepsy since 1985, when I had a push-bike accident, and wasn't wearing a helmet. It got really bad; so I had to go unemployed.

We only went the once [to the foodbank], about a month ago. It put pressure on us: the wife and I were arguing.

About a year ago, I had a heart attack; then I had another one - then I had another one. Then I had another one; then I had one while in hospital. Five heart attacks!

Just after using the foodbank, I felt: I have let the family down. I know what it's like to starve. I know what it's like to starve for three days. Every week. Sometimes it was five days. Even now, I have just a sandwich. I used to be a chef back in the 1990s at Butlins.

My youngest son, Scott, loves his food now. He was tiny when he was born three months premature. He is partially deaf, he's got microcephaly, and he's got a foot problem, and asthma.

I was nervous - even when I got to the foodbank, very nervous. The wife said: "There's nothing to be frightened of. We'll go in together."

 

Antonia, London

I WORK part-time in Halfords as a sales adviser. My husband, Sergio, started working in TK Maxx this month. Before, it was just me [supporting us financially], but I am on maternity. My husband changed his job to support me when I was in hospital for pre-eclampsia.

Sergio is asthmatic: he can't stay in this place, so lives with a friend in east London - one day here, one day there - because of the damp. I was spending £200 on painting to clean the house. I was getting unwell from the damp. It's really strong, the smell, and I had to go every week with [my son] Samuel to the GP, because he was really cold, and had the flu. He couldn't eat. I felt stressed, and was on medication, which I finished three weeks ago.

I was nervous, because I didn't know how it was, but then people from church were talking to me very nicely to make me feel calm. I feel better now.

From the beginning, I felt very embarrassed about using the foodbank, but I met the ladies, who were very nice. I have been since November till now, every Monday, to get nappies and food. I was in front of the church, and thought shall I go or not? Sometimes, I had to go without eating for a weekend. I had to be strong because of my daughter Samara; I can't show her how I was feeling.

She asks when she is going to have a room so she can invite her friends. Samara is going to secondary school in September, and this is a two-bedroom flat. She doesn't have space. We are still waiting for an answer from social housing [about the new flat]; it's been a month; we are still waiting.

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