Church Urban Fund held it's annual conference in Manchester on the 5th November. Supporters, staff and volunteers considered the topic of financial exclusion and heard from a number of speakers including Sir Hector Sants, Karen Rowlingson from the University of Birmingham and Canon Angus Ritchie from the Centre for Theology and Community. 

Paul Hackwood, chair of Church Urban Fund introduced the day and highlighted  the need to address the demand and supply aspects of financial inclusion by improving the level of financial services in community and by addressing personal financial capability. The aim of the conference was to explore the complex issues of financial exclusion and to share learning and best practice.

Sir Hector Sants, chair of the Archbishop's Task Group on Responsible Credit and Saving  spoke about the causes and impact of the financial crisis asking the quesiont: has society responded in the best way possible and what role can the Church play in that response?

Professor Karen Rowlngson gave an overview of the causes and consequences of financial exclusion which touched on themes of underemployment, low incomes, reducing benefits and the policies and practices of banks.  Her suggestions for improving financial inclusion included paying a living wage, ensuring welfare and benefits provide a safety net, reforming banks and supporting alternative finance providers and improving incentives and support for savers.

In a reflection on theology and financial systems Canon Angus Ritchie asserted that the church should be a church of the poorest – as well as a church for the poorest. He challenged us to think about how do we 'handle' the material world and money: as an icon - something which leads us into a deeper connection with God, or as an idol which distracts us from love of God and neighbour. 

In the afternoon workshops on debt advice, church credit champions, financial education and campaigning provoked lively discussions about how churches can make a difference in their communities.