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With rising energy bills and changes to Universal Credit, many households are facing a bleak winter

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(Photo: Unsplash/Christopher Bill)

We are living in the perfect financial storm. With rising energy bills, a removal of the Universal Credit uplift, and the ending of furlough – and this dreadful combination will leave many households entering a bleak winter.

Problem debt was already a significant issue prior to the pandemic. The last twenty months has had a devastating impact on the finances of many households and it is undeniable that those with the lowest of incomes have been hit hardest.

Experts are warning of a ‘debt crisis’ for millions of families across the UK. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number of households on low incomes in arrears has tripled since the pandemic began. Those households who had just been ‘getting by’ have now been swallowed up by their financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. According to the Money Advice Trust, these are the people who also reported a negative impact on their mental health.

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On top of this, CAP’s most recent client report highlighted that 45 per cent of CAP clients across the UK did not know where to seek help, with almost two thirds (62%) thinking they could resolve their debt problems themselves.

If this is you, you are not alone and nor will you ever be. As we enter this new season, no-one in our communities should feel isolated, in despair or without hope. When the weight of your finances pulls you down, know that there are others who can help you escape the trauma and shame. People should no longer feel like they are nearing a cliff edge.

In my current role as Regional Lead of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in the East of England, I am in the privileged position of hearing the many stories of people across our region who journey with CAP to break free from debt. Across East Anglia and the East of England, CAP has over 25 debt centres in places as widespread as Dereham, Saxmundham, Chelmsford and Ely.

Debt Centre Manager John who runs the Ely CAP Centre said, “The biggest impact in the lives of clients is the injection of hope into a problem that seemed insurmountable. CAP offers solutions that were previously unavailable or thought to be unworkable and supports people all the way through the process of becoming debt free.”

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Ricky, a former CAP client powerfully explains the impact of getting help: “To say CAP saved my life is an understatement. I became debt free in October 2020. It’s like someone has lifted a great weight off my shoulders! I’m optimistic now. I’ve started a career in security, and have even offered to volunteer with CAP. Once you’ve been there yourself, you can help people and tell them how it can end.”

I will never forget my first impression of seeing a client’s relief when I walked through the door with my local debt coach. The journey out of debt and into hope was a joy to observe and a privilege to be part of.

Problem debt is pervasive; it affects all areas of life and it corrodes anything good. We don’t want the burden of debt to be part of anyone’s story. Don’t delay in getting the help you need, don’t let fear and shame steal away the hope of breaking free from debt.

Lorraine Papaioannou is Region Lead for national debt help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP).

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Religion

This Chinese Church Escaped Persecution, But Now Fears Being Returned to China

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01/26/2022 South Korea (International Christian Concern) – With thanks to an interview conducted by Radio Free Asia (RFA), we have learned that the members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church are due to have their appeal for asylum heard by South Korean courts, following an initial rejection by the lower courts last year.

As many may recall, the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, often referred to as the ‘Mayflower Church’ for its resemblance to those seeking religious freedom on the Mayflower voyage to the US, has been taking refuge on South Korea’s Jeju island since 2019. The unregistered church had begun to face harassment from Chinese government officials and police, as running a church outside of the Chinese regulations is against Chinese law and religious guidelines. In an attempt for a better life for themselves and their children, a contingent of the congregation voted to leave China. However, after two years, their South Korean host has soured on their presence.

The congregation’s initial applications for asylum were rejected, and their appeal is expected to be heard by South Korea’s higher courts soon. If the congregation is denied by the Korean courts, they will be on a short timeline to leave Korea or they will be living there illegally and fearing a possible removal back to China.

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The expected outcome of this congregation’s case remains uncertain, as Chinese nationals are rarely approved for asylum status in South Korea. Some allege this to a result of the South Korean government’s weariness of their communist neighbor – to accept refugee from China would be seen as a direct slight against the regional superpower. The congregation must also demonstrate a significant threat, and when dealing with a nation like China, the threatening party has a tight control on the information. Given that the global community is preparing to tune in for the Beijing Olympics next month, it can be assumed that the world has not fully come to terms with the scale of persecution in China.

Christians are among many of the religious groups in China facing regular and often harsh religious persecution. Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China continues to demonstrate an open hostility toward religious minorities, meaning that victims of persecution will continue to climb. Should this congregation be returned, it is expected that the CCP will have a close eye on them, if they are not punished for their alleged crime. While the status of the Mayflower Church in Korea remains undecided, we should not assume these Christians are out of options, as other Christian groups have heard their call for help. RFA has reported that this group has also applied for asylum in the US, however, there has been no comment on the situation further.

For questions, please contact: [email protected].

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Religious freedom violations persist in Iran

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(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Christians continue to suffer as a result of widespread religious freedom abuses in Iran, human rights organisations have warned. 

A new joint report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Article 18, Middle East Concern and Open Doors International found that violations persisted in Iran in 2021, with at least 59 Christians arrested over the course of the year.

Thirty Christians endured some form of imprisonment last year while 34 were detained by the authorities. 

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At least 209 individuals were affected by judicial rulings, 35 of whom reported “intense psychological torture”.

The actual numbers are likely to be higher as many cases go unreported “either because no-one raises awareness — arresting authorities frequently issue threats to prevent publicity — or because those involved request confidentiality”, the organisations warned. 

The report notes some positive developments. In November, the Supreme Court said that the prison sentences of nine converts should be reviewed because “promoting Christianity and ‘Zionist evangelism’ in private homes is not an example of gathering and collusion against internal or external security as decided in the original verdict”.

“According to this decree, house-church activities and the promotion even of the pejoratively termed ‘Zionist’ Christianity are not crimes,” the report said.

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“It remains to be seen how this ruling will be applied by the Revolutionary courts, but the Christians have at least since been released while their cases are reviewed.”

In another positive development, officials in the western city of Dezful decided not to press charges against eight Christian converts on the grounds that although apostasy is a crime under Sharia, it is not an offence according to the laws of Iran.

Despite these positive developments, the report warned of “inconsistencies” in the Iranian judicial system after the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Christian couple sentenced to 10 years in prison over their involvement in a house church.

“The differing decisions highlight the inconsistencies that plague the judicial system in Iran and suggest that favourable rulings reflect the views of individual judges rather than systemic improvements at the heart of the judiciary,” the report said. 

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Recommendations in the report include a call to the Iranian government to uphold freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all citizens, and the release of Christians detained on “spurious charges” relating to their faith or religious activities. 

The report also calls for an end to the criminalisation of house church organisation and membership, and asks the international community to hold Iran accountable on FoRB by raising the issue during political and trade discussions involving the country. 

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Once again, this report provides an important reminder of the continuing violations faced by Christians in Iran.

“We urge the Iranian government to take heed of its recommendations and to end what amounts to the criminalisation of the practice of a religion the Iranian constitution claims to recognise.

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“We also call for the government to ensure that all citizens, including members of the Baha’i, Gonabadi Dervishe, Humanist and Sunni communities, are free to enjoy the full right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.”

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