Community interventions with relationships at the heart are helping adults tackle their money problems – with big social impact.

By Carolyn Griffith, Senior Researcher, Centre for Social Justice.

Community interventions with relationships at the heart are helping adults tackle their money problems – with big social impact.

4th April 2022

Carolyn Griffith Shame, upbringing, and burdening others are just a few of the reasons that Brit’s say they struggle to talk about money. Indeed, 55 per cent of UK adults don’t feel comfortable discussing money despite 48 per cent of adults feeling worried about it.

Yet money problems ruin lives, and lack of support can have crippling consequences. It breaks families apart, isolates people from friends and support networks, shatters confidence and drives many to consider suicide. Of the over 9 million people in the UK struggling with problem debt, 6.8 million have not sought help – most often due to embarrassment around debt.

I recently visited two CSJ-Award winning charities, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and The Jericho Foundation, who are finding creative ways to talk about Britain’s least favourite topic and deal with money problems head on – transforming lives in the process. While CAP addresses debt and Jericho addresses employment, both charities fortify individuals with skills, enmesh themselves in local communities and leverage relationships to tackle root causes of poverty.

CAP is a national organization with a local approach. At their headquarters in Bradford, their FCA-regulated debt advisors remotely create debt solutions for locally-based CAP ‘coaches’ to deliver to financially struggling community members. Local churches set up CAP centres to train these coaches, who support their clients through their journey to become debt free and foster community – a marked difference from many arms-length national debt advisors. The relationships driven approach enables CAP coaches to identify the underlying causes and consequences of debt, like un- or under-employment, housing problems, addiction or mental health and signpost clients to a variety of local support services.

But enrolling with CAP’s debt support is still a challenge for most of their clients. Gareth McNab, CAP’s Director of External Affairs, explained that despite their extensive network of debt centres in high need communities, 50 per cent of people wait one year before reaching out for debt advice, and one in four wait three years or more. As a result, CAP has started offering other ‘gateway’ courses like CAP Money – a money management course, CAP life skills and CAP job clubs. CAP coaches report that these courses speed up the journey into debt support, as some users find it easier to attend a skills-development course first and broach the debt issue second.

With new financial skills, a strong support network, and a route out of debt, CAP clients experience a new sense of control over their lives. Kellie, a CAP Debt Help and CAP Money Course graduate, is a mother of two who ended up in 15k of debt as a result of a financially abusive relationship – critically impacting her mental health and costing her her job. On her experience with CAP, Kellie said:

“It was really tough to face the problem. It was easier to bury my head in the sand because what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you…until it comes knocking at your door. The CAP Money Course helped me to bring my financial problems into the light. I stopped the cycle of hiding away and it has gotten me to a point where I can look at it. CAP Money changed literally everything for me. Going debt free was huge. And staying debt free thanks to the money course has changed my life.”

These courses, particularly CAP Money, are also delivered alongside other local courses like marriage and parenting courses to integrate money conversations into everyday family life and ease people into seeking debt advice.

“My kids and I now have open conversations about money. We talk about what they’ll give up or how long they’ll save to get something they want. I want them to be better off than I was. And if they aren’t, it won’t be through lack of money knowledge, if I have anything to do with it”.

Through its array of courses and local-delivery model, CAP enables communities to address debt, instilling hope and changing lives. Thanks to CAP, Kellie’s kids will be better off having learned key money skills and knowing where to turn for help if debt mounts up.

But having enough money in one’s pocket to make good decisions with in the first place is crucial. I also had the privilege of visiting the Jericho Foundation, a Birmingham-based social enterprise that helps its clients find work and keep it. They provide local people with supported-employment in Jericho-run businesses alongside apprenticeships, traineeships, and other qualifications necessary for building careers. Jericho’s CEO, Richard Beard, described Jericho as a springboard into work:

“For most of our employees, we don’t intend to be the long-term work destination. Our purpose is to be a steppingstone, equipping people with the skills and confidence they need to climb the career ladder and give people that first opportunity to gain experience. Our supported employment model helps to address the root causes of worklessness, equipping our people to have fulfilling careers, not dead-end jobs.”

During my visit to several of their commercial businesses – The Re-Users, The Wood Shack, Jericho Construction, and Miracle Laundry – I saw that their relationship-driven approach and emphasis on employee wellbeing means that underlying problems that impact employment, such as financial stress, which drives low productivity, absenteeism, and job loss, are identified and local resources can be leveraged to address these problems.

Lucy Watkin, The Wood Shack Manager, told me:

Problems with money, whether it’s a big debt or the inability to pay rent or even afford food, come to work with people. So we talk about training and development, but also about their general wellbeing. By being around them every day and asking questions about their wellbeing, our employees feel like they can open up about money stress, and then we can link them in with local debt advice, get them housing support, help them sort their benefits or offer them a numeracy course, which helps people actually deal with the problem, rather than letting it get so big they stop coming in.

Jericho’s model is having immense impact. Most of their employees come from disadvantaged backgrounds, are survivors of modern slavery, or are neuro-diverse and the tailored, needs-driven, compassionate support they receive opens doors that were previously closed. The investment required to offer this kind of support pays off for its employees and its bottom line. Their commercial businesses are thriving, with the local community voting for their social vision with their wallets, and their employees describe profound changes in their lives.

Three key themes characterise both CAP’s and Jericho’s approach to support:

  1. Skills strengthen support – The charities exist to fix a problem, be it debt or worklessness, but they also equip their clients with skills – financial skills or work qualifications – which unlocks potential and creates long-term resilience in people’s lives.
  2. Relationships identify root-causes – Strong relationships with clients and the community mean that underlying causes of poverty are identified, and cross-sector community expertise is leveraged to tackle root causes, preventing unnecessary duplication of services.
  3. A local approach drives innovation and investment – Each CAP centre, or Jericho business, is led by community members with deep local knowledge, meeting the specific needs of that community, and generating buy in from local people.

Christians Against Poverty and The Jericho Foundation are part of the CSJ’s Alliance of poverty-fighting charities. We are incredibly grateful for their support and the time taken to share their brilliant work, teams and clients with us.

If you’d like to join the Alliance, please get in-touch by following this link.

Sign up to the CSJ Leader Column