Making a difference to people in debt

Published on: 05 May 2015

THE young woman pulled a can of Heinz soup from her food parcel – and burst into tears.
“I’ve never had Heinz before.” she said, “We could only afford the budget ranges.”
Jane White, who organises the donations of provisions from members of the congregation at Christ Church, Downend, tells the story as an illustration of the levels of poverty in England in 2015.
“We don’t give out the basics. It’s the real deal – because people are special,” she says. As well as food to meet everyday needs, Jane makes sure recipients get a treat or two. She also ensures she keeps a supply of birthday and other seasonal gifts for them to dip into too.
Jane is the centre manager for Christians Against Poverty, based at the church and covering a wide area of Bristol and South Gloucestershire. She took up the post last year, initially at Haven House in Staple Hill before the service moved to Christ Church, where Jane has now been joined by debt coach Mark Rich.
The centre is expanding because – despite what some politicians might tell you – the need for help is increasing. Jane’s clients were facing a wait of eight weeks or more for an appointment.
“That is too long, especially for people who are already desperate,” she says. “Now we will be able to cut waiting times and see around 90 people a year.”
Important and welcome as they are, the food parcels are a side issue. The main focus of CAP’s work is supporting people to get out – and stay out - of debt.
The charity was founded in 1996 by John Kirkby following his own experience of financial difficulties. There are now 280 CAP centres in the UK. Last year they helped nearly 16,000 people.
CAP receives no Government funding. Its free service is paid for by donations from individuals who want to help transform the lives of some of the most isolated and needy people in our society.
Anyone - regardless of age, gender, faith or background - can seek support from CAP by calling 0800 328 0006 or via the website capdebthelp.org
They will be visited by a debt coach and a support worker in their home. Trained debt counsellors at CAP headquarters will work out a realistic budget, negotiate affordable payments with creditors and stop unfair interest and charges where possible. In most cases, clients will pay a set sum into a CAP account, from which payments will be made and eventually savings built up. If bankruptcy is the only option, or court proceedings are involved, the charity will provide support.
The non-judgemental face-to-face service has won widespread praise, including an endorsement from Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.
“It gives people time to breathe,” says Mark. “Once CAP are involved, there are no more threatening letters or phone calls. The burden is lifted and the sleepless nights stop.”
“We can make a difference in 24 hours,” adds Jane. “The look on people’s faces when we tell them there is hope is fantastic. I never thought I’d be doing this, but it is a fabulous thing to be involved with. I believe CAP keeps families together and has prevented many suicides. ”
Jane, who used to be a mortgage adviser, and Mark, a chartered accountant, say that one reason some people get into debt is that “money isn’t visual any more”. Instead of the old system of cash in jamjars set aside for individual bills, we have contactless cards, internet shopping and online gambling.
Therefore, as well as supporting individuals who have money troubles, CAP runs job clubs and courses to help people manage their finances. It also runs sessions for people struggling with addictions to gambling, smoking and drinking.
“Prevention is better than cure,” says Mark. “The idea is to equip people for the future. We see a great sense of pride and achievement from those who complete our courses and those who become debt-free.”
Mark has trained as a CAP speaker and will be happy to talk at any local churches about how they might get involved with supporting the charity. He can be contacted via CAP’s head office or at Christ Church.

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