During the school holidays (I’m a teacher, okay?) I have a daily quandary – do I grind some beans and make myself my second hot drink of the day, the first being always a decaf tea, OR do I pop across the road where we happen to have a self-service Costa? Today I went for grinding beans, saving a couple of pounds, because of the topic of this post (that’s obviously not my hand in the photo!).
Christians Against Poverty, otherwise known as CAP. This is my fourth best thing in all the world, and it’s fairly serious! They are a national UK charity who help thousands of people every year to get out of debt free of charge. Another way of putting it would be, that I think ‘solvency’ is one of the best things in the world. Thank you, by the way, for those of you who have liked my post on YouTube so far – keeps me going. If any of you want to recommend any of your ‘best things’ do let me know in a comment.
There is a well known saying, actually it comes from the Bible, saying ‘If you think you’re standing firm, take heed lest you fall’. This applies well to money and solvency. For maybe two years now my wife and I have kept a monthly budget. When we have worked out the direct debit outgoings for the month, and the current bank balance, we come up with a total for disposable income, and then divide it up between the essential areas of spending. We have areas such as Groceries, Fuel, Medical, Cat Costs, Books, my leisure, my wife’s leisure, eating out…. We have fun each month negotiating how much money I should have for leisure and how much my wife! I like to associate money discussions in our marriage with a glass of wine, as that helps to lower the blood pressure (not that we always drink when talking money, that would be unwise methinks). We regularly give to our church, and also sponsor a child in Haiti, and allow an option each month to give to a different charity. We also give a small amount to CAP, which is a direct debit.
Lots of people don’t use a monthly budget. For whatever reason. My wife and I both completed A-Levels, both did university degrees, and still it’s taken us to the last couple of years to do a budget. I marvel at our early years of marriage where we were both DINKY and what on earth we did with all our money! If only we’d budgeted, how much we would have saved. To see more on budgeting try The Frugal Cottage which is very accessible and straightforward.
CAP tells us that whereas ten years ago, around the time of the crash in 2007, those who came to them in debt had the majority of their debt in secondary spending, such as ‘leisure’, TV and installment payment on larger items, there is now much more of an increase in debt in priority debts, such as utilities and rent. I had a very enlightening conversation recently with the CEO of a local homeless charity who expressed a fear that there will be many more homeless young people on the streets, as a recent government decision means that until you are 21 you will not be eligible for housing benefit. On government websites I think this rule is under the restriction of ‘being a full-time student. There are so many areas of need in our society. Homelessness is a very visible and real blight. But before it happens, there need to be people who can rescue families and individuals from sliding down into that pit of hopelessness. CAP are such people.
I’m proud to say that my sister is actually a CAP Manager and fulfils various roles for the charity. It is an award-winning debt-counselling organisation set up by an inspirational figure called John Kirkby who in his autobiography Nevertheless tells the gripping story of how he got into debt himself, managed to get out of it, and then wanted to help those in a similar experience.
Being in debt seems to be one of those situations that brings such a private torture and stress that it really does need someone else to lift you out of it. Once you are regularly getting bills through the door, and receiving bullying phonecalls; when you simply don’t have the money to pay your creditors, and you can’t buy food for your children, and you have no work, then depression, alcoholism, divorce, stress, misery ensue very quickly. It is true that most households in this country have no debt buffer. In 2015 four out of ten adults had no more than a few hundred pounds in savings. It is good advice to have three months’ income in savings at any one time (Martin Lewis suggests six months savings (delve into the article to find this) and others do too, so that should you lose a job without warning, you have enough money to pay your bills for three months while you find a new job. This is as a minimum. It is more essential for those renting properties, as on a mortgage one can take a payment holiday if previously you have been consistent in your payments, and perhaps on one income, to have this three months’ buffer. Perhaps some would rely on family in a case like this; but it is so quick to slide into debt. Not everyone has solvent family members who can help you out, and this can easily become a source of contention and bitterness. Many homeless people became homeless very quickly through job loss and the ensuing debt. For me and my wife, we will be taking steps to create that three month buffer ourselves, now my awareness has increased of this, and as we will both be working part-time now.
What do CAP do? They send a discreet, caring person to come round and ‘look at’ all the growing pile of correspondence, debt, etc. Then they pick up all the debt envelopes and take them off the client. If they have no food in their cupboards, they take them to the supermarket and buy them a good load of shopping. They will explain to the client that CAP is a Christian organisation and they will pray with them. It will usually be a meeting in which the client is very emotional, crying, vulnerable – but at the same time grateful as they know they have found someone who is going to help them.
CAP have a well-organised system centrally that supports the handling of personal debt. They will open up a fresh bank account for the client, and get in touch with all the client’s creditors, and negotiate payment with them over a period of time. They will ensure that the client’s income is being prioritised to pay off the debt, but a small, manageable piece at a time. When creditors know that a debt service with the track record of CAP is on the case, they are very happy to negotiate smaller repayments over a few years. The moment that the client is finally ‘debt-free’ is celebrated! CAP not only gives someone in debt a lifeline but also gives them a network of friends. Many CAP clients join churches (although they are not obliged to, I hasten to add!) and find a huge amount of social support there. Let me give you Neville’s story below:
We had a low income. Three kids at home. The money we had we had to give to them to pay for the bus. The amount of stuff we got out of a catalogue, the payments went too high and we couldn’t keep up. I had a really bad breakdown. If I couldn’t get anybody to help me with my debts, which were in my name, I thought if I wasn’t here, then no one could touch the family.
We did go on to CAP and pick up that phone. We got a nice call off a lady, Sally, who told me the ins and outs of what CAP can do, and they take over for you. And once they take over, you don’t have to worry about letters coming to your door or phonecalls, CAP are in charge. That’s it. I am totally debt-free and it’s all over with. But I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me. I’m getting on better with my family, there’s no more thoughts of self-harm and I’m very happy indeed. God bless CAP. I love ya – you’re brilliant.
I am a Life Changer. I’m not bigheaded about that! It means that officially I make a small monthly contribution to CAP. I could give more. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I watch documentaries on the TV about poverty in Britain (is it just me or are there more of them at the moment) it’s rare to see someone properly helped. Every time I read a story from a CAP magazine, or their website, I’m hearing about people who have come out the other side of their distress, and are now solvent, grateful to God and to CAP, and even in a position to help others. Children who were unhappy and distressed, now able to express in simple terms how much better their lives are. To hear these personal stories provides me with a ‘shot of happiness’. We need these!
I do get torn sometimes. I know that there is dreadful poverty overseas. Unacceptable poverty. I have never forgotten a comment that a Russian revolutionary made (not in my hearing) that the only problem that thinking people should be dealing with is that of naked and starving people. I will devote two more of the ‘best things in the world’ to worldwide poverty issues and things that are being done about them.
BUT CAP is a great example, a great inspiration, of a company that is brilliant to work for, great to support, excellent to promote. They don’t just lift people out of debt. They also help to find people employment (Job Clubs), and provide training in budgeting (Money Course). Just this last year over 1,000 people have found work through the Job Clubs. You will see on their website that David Cameron and Martin Lewis as well as Prince Charles commend the charity. I have heard the current CEO of CAP talk first hand of his involvement on the ground in a CAP Centre, which shows that those employed by the charity are genuinely committed to it. All of us have a little to give, whether it’s volunteer time, a little extra cash to support it, or even if we are inclined some prayer. If you’ve never heard of them, take a look at their website. Tell someone else about them. If you’re reading this in a different country, perhaps you could start up something similar.
Let’s give a shout out for CAP.