A couple of years ago many parishes in the Church of England decided to take some practical steps towards creating a fairer financial system where everyone in the community flourishes. We did this because we believe there’s no division between ‘spiritual’ and ‘non-spiritual’ parts of life. The good news of Jesus Christ is for the whole human being. He wants to see every human being flourish.
One part of that work is helping young children develop good savings habits. So I was thrilled to visit St Bartholomew’s Church of England primary school in South London yesterday, which has been piloting our new schools-based savings club programme, LifeSavers. It has been supported generously by Virgin Money, and the next phaseof its roll out has a Government grant. We are grateful for the support.
We have been piloting the programme in schools in London, Bromley, Nottinghamshire and Bradford. I am delighted that it's now going to be extended to many more church and non-church primary schools around England.
Working in partnership with Young Enterprise and local credit unions, the scheme encourages children to save small, regular amounts of money. This is combined with teaching resources to help children understand the values that underpin this kind of approach to money. It’s not just teachers; parents, carers and the whole community are encouraged to get involved with children’s financial education.
Now, on the surface this might sound like a modest gesture. Not a bit of it. The programme is certainly down to earth and extremely practical, and rightly so. Yet it aims at the heart of some of the deepest, most painful and most intractable problems that families can face, and seeks to help put people on a new footing – a footing that Jesus would recognise as healed and renewed.
When I prayed with the children during their assembly yesterday, I prayed especially for those whose households have serious money problems. Where there are such difficulties, it may lead to a whole range of other problems tightening their grip on a family: substance abuse, domestic violence and marital breakdown, among others.
So the way that money is dealt with is about human flourishing at its deepest level – and it is absolutely right that the church is helping to try and break this cycle before it affects another generation. Meanwhile, on a practical level it makes perfect sense for the Church of England, which is involved in the education of a million children around the country, to be using our particular platform to make this contribution.
We now know, thanks to academic research, that our thinking and habits around money are formed much earlier than we’d ever assumed. And they are usually formed subconsciously as you observe your parents or guardians, and absorb whatever the culture of your home life happens to be. Both traditional media and social media also play their part.
So what we are doing with LifeSavers is providing serious, early formation of those values of how we handle money – so that children are given the opportunity to learn that it can and should be a servant, not a master. Many things go to make full and contented lives, but without doubt one of them is not being trapped in the lonely, frightening prison of debt. As a society we’ve become overly accepting of approaches to money that mean it ends up running people’s lives; we want to see people running their money.
The children I spent yesterday morning with weren’t just going through the motions. This wasn’t just another thing to sit through in class. They were inspired. It was really sinking in. Another great thing to see was how the teacher was using the programme to bring in lots of other parts of the curriculum – basic numeracy, of course, but also emotional intelligence, and the whole idea of service, of doing things for other people. It’s a really rounded educational process.
The Jesuits, who have long offered education that values the whole person, used to say ‘give us the child until he is seven and we’ll give you the person for life’. That quote is attributed to St Francis Xavier in the 16th century. Now is not a bad time – in a new way, one that is collaborative, community-based and pools our resources in and beyond the church – to apply that wisdom afresh.