*** DEBUG END ***

Good Money Week: help for all caught in grip of debt

29 September 2023

What are Christian charities seeing in the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, asks Clive Price

Christians Against Poverty

A CAP debt coach helps a client to sort through his bills on the way to making a plan to solving his debt problem

A CAP debt coach helps a client to sort through his bills on the way to making a plan to solving his debt problem

INCREASING numbers of people are falling into debt as the cost-of-living crisis persists, despite slight improvements in interest rates.

The UK debt-help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) says that even some households customarily regarded as “financially stable” are now seeking assistance.

Through a recent YouGov poll, whose results were released this month, CAP found that more than one quarter (28 per cent) of UK adult respondents felt “financially insecure”, and almost as many (23 per cent) said that they would not be able to cope with an unexpected bill of £200.

“Devastating,” is how CAP’s director of external affairs, Gareth McNab, summed up this crisis. “A financial shock like a car issue, or the boiler breaking, can leave them facing spiralling debts.”

The statistics have made Mr McNab angry, as they show that many households do not have access to a liveable income, and are being forced to cut back on basic essentials, or cut out them out altogether. “This can’t be right,” he said.

CAP’s policy- and public-affairs officer, Juliette Flach, painted a grim picture of a crisis that’s been growing over several years. “Although it is getting media attention now,” she said, “we’ve been seeing increasing amounts of people coming to us not being able to afford the essentials for many years.

“Their income isn’t meeting the essential costs of food, heating, and rent. We can provide all the professional FCA-accredited [Financial Conduct Authority] free debt advice, but people are really struggling to make ends meet.”

CAP has been throwing people a lifeline since 1996. They now work with about 850 churches of different denominations each year. CAP claims that, through its services, more than 20,000 people have become debt-free since 2010.

A total of 335 Anglican churches currently work with CAP. Of these, 221 are involved in running CAP debt centres, 49 run CAP job clubs, and 65 are running CAP life-skills courses. And since the end of June, 195 people from 125 Anglican churches have trained to deliver money coaching.

Each debt centre has a manager or debt coach. In addition, CAP’s head office has 62 professionally trained debt advisers, authorised by the FCA. These provide specialist advice to support local debt-centre managers and coaches.

CAP Sunday is on 15 October, though the charity encourages churches to hold a CAP Sunday at any time during October. Resources are offered to equip churches to join the CAP journey.

Paul Upward/Church Action on PovertyVolunteers and members at Peabody Pantry in Chingford, in London. The Pantry opened in late 2020 in collaboration with the Peabody Community Foundation

“We’ve been increasing the support that we’re able to offer in response to the cost-of-living crisis,” Ms Flach said. “We’re also offering a free benefit-calculator on the website, and providing more information that’s publicly available on budgeting and cost-cutting.”

But CAP and its partner churches know that they cannot solve the crisis alone. “We’re needing policy changes to make sure we’re tackling some of those drivers of poverty and not ending up just being responsive and reactive to the crisis,” Ms Flach said.

“We’re working with politicians and the Civil Service to try and provide some of those upstream changes, to tackle some of those drivers of financial difficulty across the UK.”


MANY Anglican churches are also working with another nationwide initiative, Your Local Pantry (News, 21 July), to help people in severe financial need.

Through this network of community food stores, people are saving an average of £21 a week on their shopping. Nearly 30 of the 100 pantries have a strong C of E partnership, or connection.

“Our pantry network is ten years old this year,” said James Henderson, development co-ordinator for Your Local Pantry. “It was all started by a housing association, Stockport Homes Group.”

Many Stockport residents were struggling financially at the time. The bedroom tax was forcing people to move or be penalised, and the Government’s austerity policy was leading to cuts in welfare spending.

Stockport Homes Group could see that many of its tenants were using foodbanks, and wondered whether there was anything else that it could do to help them. Staff and volunteers got together and came up with the idea of a “pantry”, like a small village shop. The difference was that people would become members, and pay a small fee when they came to buy their groceries. “It was about the community supporting other people within the community,” Mr Henderson said.

The idea caught the attention of the ecumenical social-justice charity Church Action on Poverty. They had been conducting research on the “poverty premium”, the idea that the poor pay more for utilities and services than the better-off. The charity was looking at projects that could help people on low incomes.

“They absolutely loved the pantry model”, Mr Henderson said, “and could see how well it was working in Stockport. We were able to partner with Stockport Homes to offer that nationally.

“Ten years down the line, we’ve gone from those five initial ones in Stockport to over 100 now across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.”

If foodbanks are like an emergency service, pantries are a halfway house before people can afford to return to ordinary supermarket shopping.

“All of our pantries have wrap-around support as well,” Mr Henderson explained. “There’s often tea, coffee, and biscuits, where people can chat. We know from our members it improves their mental health and well-being.

“They can get access to help and support. They can volunteer, so they build up job skills and customer-service skills and things like that. It’s a real kind of stepping stone for people in the community to support each other, in what is a really difficult time.”

For the next phase, Mr Henderson says, Your Local Pantry will form a partnership with the Co-op for a “visionary expansion” to 225 pantries by 2025. “We’re trying to grow as much as we can, because we know this is a great model.”


Jenny began to struggle with debt after a difficult pregnancy, leaving her unable to return to work. An unexpected car breakdown also added to the family’s financial strain. She got help from Christians Against Poverty

AFTER I fell pregnant with my daughter, I had a really bad pregnancy and birth. I suffered many traumas during that time, and was diagnosed with complex PTSD. I lost my job because of it.

Blackbox Media/Church Action on PovertyA volunteer and a member chat at Hope Pantry, in Merthyr Tydfil. All Pantries provide some form of support beyond food, and 74 per cent of members say that the Pantry has helped to strengthen their community connection

We were just about ticking over, but had to take out a credit card because the car blew up, and we needed to buy another car. It was a very difficult time for all of us, and it was not easy going down to one wage with a new baby and a son.

CAP’s staff were absolutely lovely — kind and caring; took the time to just speak to me and go through everything.

I have been working two days a week. So, I get Universal Credit and I also get Personal Independence Payment. Through these incomes, they were able to create a budget for me and a repayment plan.

Scott was a full-time carer looking after his partner, Alison. When she died, money grew short, and Scott contacted Christians Against Poverty

MY PARTNER, Alison, suffered from myotonic dystrophy. I became her full-time carer. That was my job, seven days a week; so I couldn’t make any money while caring for her.

When Alison passed away, I was left on my own. Everything started to go downhill from there. All I had was £300 a month of Universal Credit, and I still had to pay the bedroom tax, because I had a spare room.

I’d work if I could, but I am blind in one eye, and have to use a walking stick to get around. Even buying the basic stuff became a worry and too much of a strain.

I started phoning various places to see if they could help. Citizens Advice recommended Christians Against Poverty. I talked to one of their team. We went through everything I owed on rent, utilities, and phone bill. CAP were very helpful and very friendly.

[Scott worked with CAP professionally accredited debt advisers to go through all his options, and was recommended to go through an insolvency process, a Debt Relief Order, which took a few months but cleared his debts.]

I can only thank CAP for their intervention, and suggest that others suffering this intolerable lifestyle may be encouraged to use their services. I am truly thankful to CAP, but now worry again about the future.

Clive Price is Communications Manager of MMHS, and runs his own media consultancy.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)