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Page last updated at 16:46 GMT, Tuesday, 26 October 2010 17:46 UK
Christians Against Poverty campaigners out in the cold

Joe Wilson
By Joe Wilson
BBC Radio Lancashire

Sheila Fielding, Carol Makinson, Kate Lambert and Sam Pierce
Four of the CAP campaigners who braved the cold and raised 2000

This weekend six campaigners spent a cold autumnal Saturday night getting what sleep they could in their cars parked at St. Bartholomew's Church on Jack Walker Way in Blackburn.

As well as highlighting the plight of the poor in Lancashire, they were also raising money for Christians against Poverty (CAP), a nationwide charity so much in demand that they have just opened 26 new branches around the country.

CAP's head office turns away 250 people every month because they do not have the capability (for that read funds) to deal with everyone who needs their help.

The Blackburn branch has long been established. They have had a prescience in the town for the over ten years. Resources dictate they can only help a handful of families at a time.

For the past five years, CAP in Blackburn has been managed by Sheila Fielding. Sheila was one of those braving the elements on Saturday night and has helped around 120 families in her time at the helm of CAP. Sheila is so busy her services are booked well into next year.

"A quick fix'

Sheila refutes the suggestion made by some that all people who are in debt got are there because of their own fault. "There are people who come to CAP looking for a quick fix, but the majority fell into debt because of circumstance.

"What has happened to most of our clients is that a relationship has broken down and their income has halved whilst the outgoings have remained the same. Or they may have lost their jobs and their income has dried up."

Another of the thawing campaigners grateful of our Sunday morning studio warmth after a night in the Blackburn air was Kate Lambert. "I think there is a stigma to being in debt.

"When we were getting our sponsorship pledges many were happy to help us, but we also met those who said that people got themselves into debt so they can get themselves out of debt."

Sam Pierce also spent the night in a car. Sam agreed that those of us with a few quid in our pocket struggle to understand the true effects of debt. "Unless you have been in that situation I don't think you can really know how they must be feeling. It is a struggle and you can feel that there really is no way out."

'Victimisation of the vulnerable'

The autumnal sleep out was timely in that many of the county's faith groups are assessing Chancellor George Osborne's Spending Review and arriving at the conclusion that those people with the least money are going to be hit excessively hard by the new measures.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, issued a statement talking of the "victimisation of the vulnerable."

He added: "A situation summarised in newspaper headlines like 'Axe falls on the poor' should cause serious concerns across the Christian, and wider faith, communities."

Speaking on BBC Radio Lancashire, the Bishop told us "the Chancellor didn't have an enviable job."

However, Bishop Nicholas is uncertain that some of those targeted for cuts can cope with them. "It's going to be tough on those who need social services. It will tough on those dependent on housing benefit. I understand those students who can't afford a one bedroom flat may end up sleeping on someone's floor. It's going to be tough on those using public transport.

"All in all, I'm not impressed [with the Spending Review] as far as the poorer end of society goes."

The Bishop said he doesn't advocate the "spend spend spend" approach.

'Confirmed his suspicions'

He went on: "We kept hearing that those with the broadest shoulders were going to take the largest burden, but it didn't seem like that to me."

The Reverend Ed Saville from the Blackburn Diocese Board of Social Responsibility said the Chancellor's Spending Review confirmed his suspicions.

"I'm not surprised that it was an ideologically driven thing. There are two sides to a balance sheet. Another way would have been to raise more income and they choose not to.

"It's interesting they have chosen raise income by upping VAT to twenty percent which will hit the poorest hardest."

Sheila Fielding hadn't taken in the minute details of the Chancellor's speech but was broadly in favour of the Spending Review.

"I do support what the government are doing because they are trying to get the country out of debt. I am trying to get individuals out of debt so I have to support them.

"It is going to be hard, but all of our clients know that."

When I emerged from my home, just after four on Sunday morning, the first frosty signs of the oncoming winter under pinned the cold air.

'Warmed their hearts'

I felt for those who had spent the night exposed to those elements. Sheila, Sam and Kate admit they would far sooner have enjoyed Saturday night at home in front of their fires watching Strictly and The X Factor.

Instead, they were in cramped cars with no comfort and only a few hours sleep. The £2000 they helped raise will have warmed their hearts if not their bodies.

If church predictions are correct, that much needed money may well be used to help the plight of those whose contributions to the Spending Review will far exceed what their pockets can afford.

Joe presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.




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