The new Bishop of Durham Designate has underlined his commitment to the fight against poverty.
The appointment of the Rt Revd Paul Butler, currently Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, as the Bishop Designate was announced on Thursday September 12 and he says that during his tenure he will support initiatives including food banks and credit unions.
Indeed, one of his duties when he visited his Diocese on Thursday September 12 was a visit to the Easington Colliery Cafe Together Project, which serves meals to local people from the local Methodist church, during which he signed up as a member of Durham County Credit Union.
Bishop Paul has highlighted clear priorities identified by the Diocese, namely a commitment to children and young people, church growth and tackling poverty, which he believes offers opportunities for greater church involvement.
Bishop Paul said: “These are important issues for all communities but never more so than here in the North East today. Tackling poverty together must be a priority.
“I am a big supporter of credit unions. I care deeply about the effect of payday loan companies and I am also worried about loan sharks but, while criticising them, we have to offer an alternative. Credit unions are one of the ways to help people avoid payday loans and loan sharks.
“I will be looking at ways in which the Church can help people, perhaps by offering them advice with their finances.“
As the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, he has backed a campaign to support an ethical saving scheme that could help prevent people spiralling into deeper debt. The 100x100 scheme asks people to consider saving at least £100 in a local credit union, offering loans at affordable rates and preventing people falling into the hands of loan sharks.
The campaign aims to produce at least £10,000 worth of savings through local credit unions which help fund affordable loans for anyone who needs to borrow funds. Based on £10,000 investment, the Credit Unions would be able to issue 20 more loans of £500, which could prove a lifeline to many. Credit union officials estimate that, based on 20 loans of £500, the extra savings would reduce the amount borrowers had to pay back under standard interest rates by almost £7,000.
Bishop Paul said: “I am a great fan of credit unions because they offer a way in to saving and borrowing at sensible interest rates for those with the lowest incomes. There is real concern about payday loans which charge very high interest rates, sadly legally.
“Then there is also real concern about loan sharks exploiting the poorest. If those of us who have more, save with a credit union, then we help them have increased capital to offer
helpful loans to those who need them at reasonable interest rates.”
Sid Rooke, Manager of Durham County Credit Union, which has been running for 12 years and continues to expand, and has 3,200 adult members and 1,500 junior members, said:
“We are trying to get people into the savings habit and helping them with low cost loans.
“The alternative is doorstep lending, payday loans and loan sharks and that can just Increase people’s financial problems.
“We are delighted the Bishop has joined our credit union, it will help raise the profile of what we do.”
Bishop Paul also praised food banks, a number of which operate in the North East, including those run by the Anglican church and its partners. He supported a recent Church Urban Fund report which outlined ways in which churches are supporting people in crisis situations when they are unable to buy food.
Bishop speaks out in support of food banks
Bishop Paul is a long term supporter of food-banks, having first engaged with the Trussell Trust, a Christian organisation which works to empower local communities to combat poverty and exclusion in the UK, when he was Bishop of Southampton.
He said: ”My experience of visiting food-banks in different places, and hearing reports from them, is that the vast bulk of users would rather not have to do so. They end up doing so because their income, from paid work or from benefits, has simply not been able to stretch to pay everything. A large numbers of users are in work, sometimes only part-time because that is all they are able to get, but they are in work.
“Many people are on standing orders to cover their rent, heating payments etc and there simply is a shortage of money left to purchase food at the end of the week or month. Often, food-banks are providing a stop gap, a lifeline whilst they wait for their next wage or benefit payment and are the only alternative.
“A significant number of users also come from people losing their job and being caught in the gap before any welfare support kicks in.
“It says a great deal about ordinary citizens that they want to help people in genuine need by donating at a supermarket, through a community centre, church etc. There appears to be a genuine concern to help.
“Alongside this relief work, rightly the Church Urban Fund has raised questions about how we tackle the underlying causes and look for longer term responses. Some food-banks have already started moving in this direction – through budgeting advice, debt management, cookery lessons and many other initiatives and services. I hope that this prompts others to ask these deeper questions.”