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Churches and charities pitch in as cost-of-living crisis begins to bite

16 November 2022

Peckham Pantry

Volunteers at the Peckham Pantry, a membership food club run by St Luke’s, Peckham, and Your Local Pantry Club that supports and connects people on low incomes, in its bid to help to reduce food insecurity

Volunteers at the Peckham Pantry, a membership food club run by St Luke’s, Peckham, and Your Local Pantry Club that supports and connects people on lo...

CLERGY are not exempt from the cost-of-living crisis, and, alongside pastoral concern for their parishioners, are increasingly in need of help with their own energy bills, the Clergy Support Trust reports.

Figures demonstrate the increased need. The trust, which seeks to help clergy families before they get to the point of crisis, made 18 grants in 2019 to help with energy costs. So far this year, it has made 378 energy grants. Its chief executive, the Revd Ben Cahill-Nicholls, acknowledges that this is partly because the trust is better known.

“But it’s undeniable that being in ministry is pretty tough for too many people at the moment,” he said this week. “There’s a huge growth in household need to pay those bills, but also for time away from the parish. By the end of August this year, we had paid for around 900 clergy households to go on holiday — an extraordinarily high figure.”

The trust’s best estimate is that, during the course of this year, about 15 per cent of beneficed and licensed clergy in this country will have had at least one interaction with it.

“The trust is part of the solution, but can’t be the whole solution,” Mr Cahill-Nicholls said. “We have increasingly good and open relationships with the diocesan leaderships, which is a great privilege and blessing to us. There are many who really get this, and feel deeply and pastorally the scale of the crisis for many.

“But [as in the public sector] the stipend has for many years either been frozen or has grown in very, very small increments. We have been busier year on year for many years now. At the end of 2021, we had helped around 1600 households in the course of the year. This year, that number is likely to be in excess of 2200.” Well-being grants now account for more than one third of the trust’s annual spend.

Church Action on Poverty (CAP) teamed up with the Co-Op this week to open 150 food pantries in the network, Your Local Pantries. The partnership, which aims to support 32,000 households in the next three years, was launched at Peckham Pantry, in London on Wednesday by the TV chef and rapper Big Zuu.

Food for the pantries comes from the national food redistribution charity Fare Share, as well as local suppliers in each area. Members pay a few pounds a week, and in return can choose groceries worth many times more, with possible savings of £1000 a year. Pantries are set out as conventional stores, with members able to select from the shelves.

CAP co-ordinates the network, which hopes to have 225 pantries in operation in three years. James Henderson, its development co-ordinator, said: “Pantries bring people together around food, soften the impact of high living costs, and strengthen the power and potential of neighbourhoods.”

The director of community and membership at the Co-Op, Rebecca Birkbeck, said that pantries were “all about dignity, choice, and hope. . . It feels like a real step in the right direction to make the world that little bit fairer.”

Methodist Homes (MHA), which runs community-based services for older people, is calling for government support to enable it to continue to run lifelines for older people so that their well-being and mental health does not decline during the cost-of-living crisis.

The charity, which supports more than 11,600 people in 175 locations, warns that older people will become increasingly isolated as the rising costs of services such as transport start to bite. It reports increasing numbers of older people asking for advice on how to deal with bills, debt, and anxiety.

Its chief executive, Sam Monaghan, said: “Despite the savings we make to the public purse, local councils are having to make tough decisions to cut services like ours, which, even though they are integral to delaying medical intervention, are, sadly, not recognised in their true value.

“We urgently need support from the Government, or through local councils, to enable our work to continue and expand if we are to avoid the pressures experienced by older people being compounded. We are already having to fight for every penny of the grants we receive.”

The charity’s communities schemes have reported experiencing increased costs for food (up 71 per cent), resources (60 per cent), and room-hire (54 per cent), all of which threaten their day-to-day running, especially in conjunction with reduced attendance.

Meanwhile, the campaign Warm Welcome, created by a coalition of churches and charities to provide safe and warm spaces for people who cannot afford to heat their homes (News, 2 September), is getting a boost from The Mirror newspaper, which is inviting readers to raise funds for the project.

A former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is backing the appeal. He told the paper: “This crisis goes far beyond politics. This is a moral issue — our responsibilities to our neighbours and in particular to those who have the least and whose needs are the greatest.”

Catherine RaysonA “warm space” in St Edmundsbury Cathedral which has been opened to the public as part of the Warm Welcome campaign in response to increasing in energy prices and inflation

Lewes District Council has given £50,000 to help churches and community groups set up and run similar warm spaces during the winter months. Twelve grants have been awarded to St Peter’s in East Blatchington; Friends of Bishopstone Station; Chailey Free Church; Kings Church; Seaford Baptist Church; and Christ Church Lewes among others.

Foodbanks, advice services (including debt and welfare) digital exclusion and green energy projects will also benefit from the funding. 

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Deputy Leader of Lewes District Council, said: “When it became clear that the UK was heading into a cost-of-living crisis, we moved very quickly to put a safety net of measures in place that directly help local people who are in most need.”

The children’s charity Spurgeon’s is to launch a new resource — “Every Family: 12 days of Christmas” — to help families cope at Christmas. It reports a steep rise in the uptake of its services, with one in three children in the UK living in poverty.

The chief executive of Spurgeon’s, Ian Soars, said this week: “Every day, our teams meet families struggling to cope with both the practical and the emotional impact of the current crisis, and, in the lead up to Christmas, this is only intensifying. Every parent wants to make Christmas special for their children, and we want to support and equip families to mark the season well, within their means.”

The resource will launch on 1 December, and includes daily advice from qualified counsellors and parent support workers for the first 12 days of the month. Some of the topics include talking to children about uncertainty in the world, managing stress and overwhelm, and free or low-cost festive activities.

The Church in Wales continues to call on supermarkets to do more to reduce the price of essential goods, reduce waste, and support employees. Two weeks ago, the launch of its campaign Food and Fuel included an open letter expressing deep concern about the spiralling costs of living.

The letter reiterated its belief that the big supermarket chains could play a significant part in helping people who were struggling financially, but also acknowledged the positive steps that some had had already taken to address the issue.

Only four of the 11 — Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose — have yet responded, the Church announced this week. The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, reported that he had been meeting decision-makers and politicians in Wales to advocate for people who are being forced to decide between heating or eating.

“These engagements highlight the strength we have collaboratively, as well as a commitment for improving the lives of the people of Wales, which we all share,” he said.

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