Churchgoers twice as likely to support credit unions

The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Reverend Christopher Foster outside his local credit union

Research shows that those who attend church regularly are far more likely to actively support credit unions in the hopes of strengthening alternatives to short-tem, high-interest payday loans.

Church Urban Fund conducted the survey, which revealed that many churchgoers also believe that churches themselves should be involved in supporting the work of credit unions which provide an alternative borrowing scheme that is local, ethical and affordable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, last year attacked unscrupulous loan companies for their behaviour, telling Errol Damelin, Wonga chief executive, of his plans to advocate alternative borrowing schemes, declaring openly that the Church is "not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we're trying to compete you out of existence".

He promised the use of church buildings for credit unions and his unyielding support for systems that are fairer to borrowers, and many Church of England bishops have taken up the challenge by encouraging parishioners in their dioceses to findo ut more about credit unions. 

It seems that Christians have responded well to the Archbishop's rallying cry.  Over 80 per cent of those surveyed agreed that payday loan companies purposely exploit the most vulnerable members of society, and almost half believed that churches should do more to raise awareness of alternative lending schemes and the ways in which believers can get involved.

The Reverend Paul Hackwood, Chair of the Church Urban Fund, praised the support, saying: "The establishment of credit unions in churches is a great example of the kind of social action that is seen to be at the heart of the Christian faith.

"As one focus group participant put it, 'Here's a practical way of supporting the poor and that's what Jesus wanted us to do'."

Many Church leaders have also declared their support for schemes and initiatives that work to help the vulnerable in the past few months in response to growing rates of poverty in the UK. Food banks and homeless charities are reporting a huge increase in demand, as welfare cuts and a damaged economy contribute to the widening gap between rich and poor.

Just last week, Archbishop Welby appointed Sir Hector Sants as head of a new financial Task Group which will develop and encourage responsible lending and saving. It will also work "with the wider financial sector to build support for more competitive and community-based financial services", according to the Church of England.

This latest research from Church Urban Fund has identified the following steps to increase church support for and membership of credit unions:

  1. Increased communication about the benefits of joining a credit union.
  2. Churchgoers should be encouraged to help credit unions become more attractive to a range of potential members.
  3. The Church should work with partners to develop a network of peer influencers trained to answer questions and offer advice.

It is hoped that a greater number of Christians will be encouraged to get behind initiatives which campaign against social injustice, something Bishop Christopher Foster of Portsmouth has labelled "a core part of our Christian calling".