CHURCHES have come together to keep their congregations out of the hands of loan sharks.
The Anglican Diocese of Durham has launched an initiative to support credit unions across Wearside and the North East.
The Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverend Mark Bryant, is backing a project to recruit 1,000 people to credit unions across the diocese as people struggle to manage their money during the financial crisis.
Speaking at the Durham Diocesan Synod at Durham Johnston School, he said: “We know that in many parts of our diocese, life is really tough and unfair.”
As an example, he said that the lifespan of someone living in the centre of Stockton was 18 years shorter than that of a woman living in the middle of Durham.
He added: “We know we have parishes where more than 50 per cent of the children are living in poverty and where nearly half the pensioners are living in poverty.”
The Bishop has signed up to become a member of the Prince Bishops Community Bank – a not-for-profit community bank open to people who live or work in the region.
He added: “The past year has seen the rise of food banks right across our diocese. It has been wonderful to see so many people supporting these projects and to see the extraordinary generosity of people when food bank members are collecting outside of supermarkets.
“We need to be clear, however, that, wonderful as these food banks are, it is extraordinary and simply scandalous that they are needed at all, as especially as we are told that 33 per cent of us coming to food banks are coming simply because the benefit payment system has let them down. We need to be clear that food banks are not the final answer.
“Ways need to be found to work with people so that they can get back to the good bits of where they were before they hit the crisis which sent them to the food bank.”
There are more than 500 credit unions across the UK, which offer savings and low-cost loans to their members.
Lesley Richardson, manager of the Prince Bishops Community Bank, said: “It is exciting that the Church is joining up with the bank, it will give extra credibility to credit unions and community banks. This is about helping people to understand how to manage their money.
“It will help keep them away from the doorstep lenders and get them away from the payday lenders. Signing up 1,000 people to credit unions would be phenomenal.”