Saturday, 24 August 2013

Obviously God has a plan: how government cuts lead to salvation, even in Broken Barnet

Barnet Homes Officers trained by Christians Against Poverty

*Updated 10th September: see below

Following on the theme of the previous post, Mrs Angry feels the spirit moving her to bring you more Good News of a spiritual awakening, this time not in the valleys of Carmarthenshire but rather the council estates of Broken Barnet.

Here is another sharp lesson in the dangers of local authorities succumbing to the lure of evangelical Christian bodies seeking to exploit the lack of social care provision in this dark era of budget cuts - and welfare reform.

Earlier this year along with other residents Mrs Angry had attended the March quarterly meeting of the Barnet Group Board:

This Board oversees the running of Barnet's ALMO/Arms Length Management Organisation, Barnet Homes, and the disgraceful enterprise known as Your Choice Barnet, a new venture intended to make profit out of providing care for disabled residents, and subsidise the losses incurred by Barnet Homes. The business model for YCB, written byour multi million pound billing One Barnet consultants, rather unsurprisingly has proved to be utterly unworkable, and has itself had to be subsidised by Barnet Council.

At this meeting, there was a token discussion about the expected impact on tenants of the changes to the benefit system imposed by the government, and in particular the Bedroom Tax. 

Derek Rust, the Director of Operations for Barnet Homes, told the Board that they had a ready made solution. They would be addressing the problem with the help of voluntary bodies, faith groups, specifically with a debt counselling service from a body called Christians Against Poverty. CAP, for short. This is, he told the Board, rather unconvincingly, a non denominational charity.

Mrs Angry truly could not believe what she was hearing. 

CAP had recently been in the news after being dropped from national agency AdviceUk, after allegations that the proffered service came with a hidden emotional fee: the use of prayer. 

The group's website boasted of the number of converts their programme had made through the debt counselling service and it was perfectly clear on reading this that the counselling was being used as an instrument of evangelical proselytism.
"Combining CAP's expertise with the love and message of the church we have a life transforming mix. Every year we help over 20,000 people to get out of debt and see 500 people become Christians through our Debt Help work as well as 10,000 people benefiting from our CAP Money Course."

In the last week, Mrs Angry noted a CAP group in Barnet following her on twitter. Yesterday they tweeted an invitation for us to read what has been happening at the 'Barnet South CAP debt centre'. This links to a website where we learn:

This month has been a blast. We have started working with six new clients, booked in more clients (so we’re booked until the middle of October), and ran two one day CAP money courses.

The six new clients we have started working with brought six new stories of peoples lives trapped in fear and anxiety. It is so good to know we can go in and bring hope and peace to their lives.It still amazes me that people just sharing their burdens with us can help them to experience the burden being lifted. God made us to be in community and gave each one of us strengths to support each other when troubled times come.

If you know anyone struggling with debt and they’re full of anxiety and fear, why not tell them about our service? There is no shame in admitting we need help!

The picture above shows one of our money courses, teaching Barnet Homes housing officers the money course and making new friends throughout. The first one day money course was enjoyed so much, that the next day more people joined us than were booked on, and we have been invited back to do more. The CAP money course is such a good tool, and fits so perfectly with all the benefit changes coming in. Obviously God has a plan!

Please pray for us as we continue on His mission to bring His kingdom and freedom to peoples lives.

We will be praying that you experience His love and comfort this month,

This is by any standard a pretty extraordinary situation, is it not? 

Barnet Homes officers, paid for by public money, working with vulnerable residents stuggling with financial difficulties, being trained by an evangelical Christian group?

And one might be forgiven for reading this piece and concluding that these people see God's plan as the appalling burden placed on the poorest members of our society by the government's welfare cuts driving people to salvation in the Lord, via their organisation and the 'support' they offer to those in crisis.

What on earth is Barnet Homes doing? 

Tracy Lees, the Chief Executive of the Barnet Group, who earns a six figure sum for her post and presumably will not be requiring the support of CAP, must be held to account for the use of such an organisation. 

How can it be acceptable to allow a fundamentalist faith group to target residents in this way? And in a borough with such a wide and diverse number of ethnic, religious and cultural groups, can it possibly be thought appropriate to introduce such a scheme? What about the impact on LBGT residents, whose sexuality represents a direct conflict to the values of Christian evangelical groups?

And since when has it become acceptable for housing officers to receive training from such organisations? There is a reference on the site to working with Barnet Homes apprentices, and a quote last month from the head of Human Resources:

“We had a really good meeting with our apprentices this morning. They love our development programme and got a lot out of managing money provided by CAP. They all said it should be the first training any apprentice coming to TBG should receive. So we are amending our programme!”

In fact the situation is even more alarming that at first glance.

Looking at the Barnet CAP website, it seems they have been present in Barnet before the March Board meeting, opening on June 2012, and working with Jesus House, another local evangelical faith organisation, and a church.

Reading through the archived posts on the website we read of the conversions that this programme has made in Barnet while providing debt counselling to residents: also in July -

We had some amazing news this month when one of our old clients decided she wanted to ACCEPT JESUS as her Lord and Saviour. 

She has had a very tough time over the last few years. She has struggled with alcoholism and depression. Her father passed away and her debts built up because she started working part time and it made a mess of her housing benefit. When she came to us she was quite anxious and worried. She accepted prayer each time we met her, and always said she felt more peace after we prayed. However we lost contact with her and her case wasn’t moving forward very well.

Last week one of our case workers from head office called her and spoke with her. When they were speaking the cae worker offered to pray and spoke about Jesus. Our client gladly accepted the love God has for her and invited Him in.

When I spoke to her later she said she was moved by Gods power and knew she needed something greater to work in her life.

I love how God calls us into being on mission together and uses each of us on the way along peoples journeys to call people home. He is greater! 
Back to March 2013, just after the Barnet Group meeting:

We have also had other very exciting news. Barnet Homes have funded us to run six CAP money courses for their residents over the next year!This is a massive step forward. We will be teaching people to manage their money and see them gain freedom and control!

CAP money is a very special area of CAP to me personally. It was while running CAP money that we realised the huge need in our community and how amazing the work of CAP is. I love how timely this has happened, just as life is going to get alot harder for the poorest people with benefit changes. This is definitely something that God has his hand on!

Mrs Angry prefers to think that God has not inspired the policies of the Condem government, especially in its evil plan to punish the poor with welfare cuts, in order to bring lost souls to salvation. 

It might be more likely that the Lord would want Christians to fight the causes of poverty, and to challenge the politicians who are imposing such injustice on those least able to bear it, and to offer them loving support, without condition, or without profit.

But we are living now in the new outpost of Capitaville: we exist for the profit of others, from the day we are born, and the day we die - and now even our lives in the next world have become a marketing opportunity for the outsourcing of our souls.

Updated 10th September:

After being away, Mrs Angry thought she should follow up this story, and last week wrote to several people regarding the activities of CAP in Barnet, including Tory leader Richard Cornelius, housing portfolio holder Cllr Tom Davey, and Chief Executive of Barnet Homes, Tracy Lees, the Labour and Libdem leaders. For Labour Cllr Mittra replied and sent his own enquiry to Ms Lees, and Libdem leader Jack Cohen also responded immediately with his own concerns. No Conservative has responded, nor has Ms Lees.

After a meeting last night Mrs Angry cornered Cllr Cornelius and asked him to reply: he said he could not remember receiving any email from her, so she helped him to find it, lost in the depths of his in box. She looks forward to his response. 

In the meanwhile, if further proof were needed of this organisation's potential for exploiting the vulnerability of residents targeted by this scheme, and disturbing the sensitive balance of community relations in this borough, here it is: read this extract from their fellow evangelists at Jesus House, another body which has profited from grants from Barnet, including generous funding from Cllr Robert Rams' 'Big Society Innovation Fund': 

 "December 2012 saw the Barnet South CAP (Christians Against Poverty) centre turn six months old.

The CAP project was set up to work in our local community supporting people who are struggling with debt, where control has been lost and costs are spiralling upwards.

With the Christmas season over and a brand New Year, it seems apt to reflect on all the amazing things which have happened over our first six months.

Having unmanageable debts can lead to all sorts of pressures and people often feel hopeless despair. A survey of CAP’s clients showed that 69% of our clients have had to visit the doctor because of illness caused by debt, and 40% of our clients have seriously considered suicide as their only option. At CAP our aim is to bring the love and hope of Jesus into our clients’ lives. We offer free debt counselling and also a lot of love, prayer and support to every client.

Since its opening, we have been fully booked with clients and have many testimonies of what God has been doing. Clients have been a real mix of people, from all walks of life. Andrew Cooley CAP Centre Manager said; 

“We have been supporting a Muslim lady who has been struggling since losing her job. When we first met her she told us that she felt suicidal and couldn’t handle the pressure. It has been a great joy to see her come on one of our money management courses and start to get her confidence back.She has also had dreams of Jesus visiting her and has been very open to us praying for her, and rings me quite often to ask me to pray for different areas of her life! We are praying that she truly accepts Jesus and follows Him.”

He added: “God has been opening so many doors with referral agencies working in Barnet, who are now referring people to us. At the end of November we had a launch event where the Mayor of Barnet, a London MEP, and the CEO of Barnet homes came to hear about our work, along with a number of other charity workers and church leaders. We had a great day and have been invited back to speak to the leadership board of Barnet homes to let them know more about what we do.”

We’re really looking forward to what God will do in 2013."


Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs Angry. I have referred people to CAP, in my role as a support officer; one of these people was a Muslim friend of mine, who told me they were really helped, no mention of praying.

Hearing positive feedback from referrals tends to make it more likely you will refer people again.

I am surprised by the information you have provided, in your opinion, do you think that religion is always raised?

We also have to access food parcels for people (this is much more common these days sadly), these often come from church groups too and I had always assumed that the help was motivated by the organisation's beliefs but these were not pushed on to the service users.

Please stop shattering my blissful ignorance of all these matters! (though deep down I thank you for this).

Anonymous said...

Another well written and excellent blog!

Here is something you might find of interest!

derrick chung said...

If I could change my shirt for a pair of wings in order to fly away from Broken Barnet I would do so but then I would risk being shot by LBB, which is about as bad before they make me homeless.

Anonymous said...

Does that mean atheists can't benefit or do they get extra!

Mrs Angry said...

Anonymous no 1: I think it is clear from the Barnet CAP website that the opportunity to engage in prayer is regularly offered. I think such a practice is absolutely unacceptable,in view of the vulnerability of the residents taking part in this scheme, and the support which has been given by Barnet Homes and other local authority bodies. Impartial advice of the sort offered by CABs is what is needed, but these centres are having their grants cut, at a time of unprecedented need.

Charitable work, whether in the form of food banks, or any other service, should not be used to replace the support that ought to be given by properly funded and run bodies, either local or national.

It should most certainly not be seen as an opportunity for evangelising, or part of 'God's plan' to bring sinners to salvation. My understanding, and of course I am only a very sinful Catholic, and therefore looked upon with deep suspicion by born again zealots, is that charity is a duty of christian love ,to be undertaken for its own sake.

Rather than celebrating the success of converting debt ridden residents to their faith, CAP should be tackling the causes of poverty, and aggressively challenging the Coalition policies that are reducing people to such misery.

Anonymous said...

I can only agree, I was so disheartened by what was happening in Barnet I found work out of the borough.

Kate Kennally spoke at one of our events and made it clear that Barnet’s vision for voluntary organsations is that they should all be self supported by 2018.

The logic behind this is that personal budgets will allow service users to pay directly for the services that they want to access. This sounds logical but when you have a budget you are going to prioritise your spending and a lot of good services will, in my humble opinion, be under used and will vanish as the community try to get by on restrictive income.

When the East Finchley Advice Service closed, this was both a shock and an eye opener. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of voluntary organisations in Barnet and the teams who staff them are truly great, but I am concerned for their futures owing to the increasing funding cuts being made.

I also imagine that BCIL and Capita will have to work closely together but I am not sure how this will work, now that Barnet's services are no longer local?

I now work in Enfield, part of my role is “empowering” people to hold their service providers to account; to be honest, I read your blog for professional tips!

Mrs Angry said...

Interesting comment, thank you: I am glad to hear that Enfield is helping residents to 'empower themselves' - that would never catch on here, would it? Oh: hang on ...