Bruce Connell is the Director of Crosslight Debt Advice. He has been involved with developing the new resource: Guiding people to free debt advice: a debt awareness and signposting workshop.
“I had thought about ending it all, but you have saved my life”.
It’s not everyday someone tells me that! But it was abundantly clear that this lady spoke with genuine conviction, and it was both heart-breaking and humbling.
The lady in question made the comment as she was leaving an appointment with one of our debt advisers. It was obvious that she had been crying, but already something had changed from when she’d arrived two hours earlier. At the time she made the comment, we hadn’t yet done anything about the chronic debt situation that had brought her to us. All we had done by that stage was listen, and treat her with dignity. But that, it seemed, was more than anyone else had done.
The statistics are compelling and disturbing. Debt is a national disease, with ever greater numbers feeling that they have to run up debts just to meet basic needs. But this is about much more than statistics. The effects of debt are having a devastating effect on our social fabric, leading to depression, illness, and family breakdown.
Every week, we see people from our community who have been brought low by the burden of debt. At that first meeting, many tears are shed; they often feel humiliated, ashamed, lost, and broken. But it is our tremendous privilege to see them walk out standing a little straighter, with a bit more hope, and with the knowledge that we can help them, and will stand by them. Sadly, as is human nature, most individuals only seek the help of a debt advisor as a last resort, when the bailiffs are already at the door, or when they are facing the prospect of being evicted from their home. As another of our client’s plaintively remarked, “My only regret is not getting debt advice sooner!”.
My strong conviction is that all of us have a role to play in helping those who are struggling under the burden of debt and all the pain that can bring. And perhaps more importantly, I believe the church is uniquely placed to take a lead in this important area. My hope is that this simple resource, produced by the Money Advice Trust in partnership with the Church of England, will go some way to inspire even more churches to equip themselves with the knowledge they need to link those in need with the help they deserve.
Philip (not his real name) is a 25 year old illiterate man who had worked on and off as a labourer. When he came to us he was out of work and on Job Seekers Allowance. But out of his £71 a week benefits, he was paying £59 a week towards the debts he had accumulated when his benefits were fluctuating. After his bills therefore, his food budget was just 50p a day – he was, apparently, surviving on a diet of milk and cornflakes. On top of his other debts and arrears, he was being threatened with eviction because he wasn’t paying his rent, and was being pursued by Bailiffs over his council tax. He was in a very bad state.
One of our team visited Philip in his home shortly after he came to see us for the first time – in his flat was a mattress, a single dining chair, a small table, and a lamp – and that was it. The walls were bare and unpainted - he had a working fridge, but no cooking facilities. No pots, pans, plates or cups. He was malnourished, chronically depressed, and very frightened. He couldn’t look our advisers in the eye, and spoke in a whisper. Certainly in no state to either look for work or hold down a job.
In the end, we were able to source some furniture for him. One of our volunteers bought him a microwave. And crucially we were able to negotiate with his creditors and reduce his debt payments from £59 a week to £7. We went to Court to suspend his eviction, and got the council to recall the Bailiffs and come to an arrangement regarding his Council Tax. And the good news is that he is now working and paying his way.
Phillip came to see us because at his lowest ebb he wandered into a café in his local church and one of the volunteers there recognised that his debts needed addressing, and put him in touch with us.
So for Phillip and the countless like him, I really hope that this new resource, and the many others on #toyourcredit are used widely so that, as it has always done, the Church can stand up and be counted.