The first phase of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s project to help local churches engage with issues of credit and debt is on course to secure benefits worth over £2million for local communities.
The figure came as Archbishop Justin Welby commissioned volunteers from churches across London, Southwark and Liverpool Dioceses who are taking part in the pilot phase of the Church Credit Champions Network.
It is estimated that this activity will generate a social return of around £7.50 for every £1 invested in the programme, largely through reduced interest payments as people use low-cost credit unions rather than payday and other high-interest companies.*
The Network is in the process of training 300 ‘champions’ who are volunteers from local churches. They help people in their churches to think about and take action to tackle issues to do with credit, debt and money in their local area. Churches have carried out mass sign-ups to credit unions, set up branches in church buildings, volunteered as board members, and encouraged local employers to set up payroll saving for their staff. The programme is on target to bring in 3,000 new credit union members from the pilot phase.
Archbishop Justin Welby commissioned more than 50 Church Credit Champions, at a special Evensong at St George-in-the-East, Shadwell, in London, yesterday. Archbishop Justin said: “Those of you who are being commissioned have heard God’s call, as the whole church has in a new way in recent years, to be a church of the poor for the poor, to seek justice and the common good for all in our society. You have set up credit union access points in your churches, brought new people onto the boards of local credit unions, supported people struggling with debt through signposting them to debt advice resources. You have seen the need, and you have met it with love, grace and hope.”
Churches have been at the centre of the campaign to introduce a cap on the total cost of credit to limit the amount that payday lenders could charge – something which finally came into force in January 2015. But as the Archbishop himself has said, regulation alone is not enough. So churches are now building on the necessary changes at the legislative and regulatory level by making sure that people have access to better alternatives and to free, high-quality, debt advice when needed.
The Archbishop set up the Task Group on Responsible Credit and Saving in 2013 under former City regulator Hector Sants. The Church Credit Champions Network is one of several projects of the task group which are highlighted on www.toyourcredit.org.uk. The Archbishop is commissioning the first group of Credit Champions at a service of Evening Prayer at St George-in-the-East in Shadwell on Tuesday 29th September.
* For a detailed breakdown of this figure, please visit: http://www.toyourcredit.org.uk/credit-champions/
Since Archbishop Justin Welby’s intervention on payday lenders in 2013, issues of credit, debt and financial inclusion have moved up the policy agenda. For example,the introduction of a cap on payday lenders, an important report from the Financial Inclusion Commission earlier this year, and the continued progress of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Credit Union Expansion Project. Two headline statistics show that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit:
– The volume of payday lending in the UK has declined by 68% from its peak in 2013 (CFA)
– Membership of credit unions has grown by 15% since July 2013, continuing the rapid growth over the past decade. (PRA)
Debt, credit and finance continue to be significant issues for many communities, and churches are stepping up to meet these challenges. According to the ‘Church in Action’ survey (Nov 2014) by the Church of England and Church Urban Fund, almost a fifth of churches are now involved in supporting credit union.
Here is a brief recap of some of what the Archbishop’s Task Group has achieved to date:
– The Church Credit Champions Network is now established in London, Southwark and Liverpool dioceses, working with individual churches to unlock their varied resources – money, buildings, people – in support of credit unions and other local community finance providers. So far, the pilot has engaged over 200 churches, trained 150 Credit Champions and is on target to bring in 3,000 new credit union members by the end of 2016.
– The LifeSavers programme is working with credit unions to set up savings clubs and a values-based financial education programme for primary schools, starting in Bradford, Nottinghamshire and South East London from September 2015.
– A new video-based workshop on debt awareness and signposting is now available to help church staff and volunteers to understand the causes and impact of debt and signpost people to free debt advice, working in partnership with the Money Advice Trust.
– Diocesan/Bishop’s Study Days for church leaders will include theological input and practical ideas for tackling financial exclusion in their area.
All these initiatives provide churches with useful tools as they seek to tackle financial exclusion in their communities.