CAP featured in BBC documentary
A BBC documentary highlighting the work of the charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) aired on Friday night. What was the response?
Called The Debt Saviours, the hour-long programme gave an insight into how CAP works by following founder John Kirkby, and some of its coaches and clients. It showed how people have become debt-free with the support of the charity, like Holly (pictured above) who had lost both her parents and had experienced debt most of all her young adult life.
The documentary focused on the faith that underpins all CAP does. It showed coaches offering to pray for their clients, a number of close-ups of John during worship, prayers in the head office in Bradford and an interview with the minister who first helped John more than 20 years ago.
Reactions to the programme have been mixed. On the one hand, some commentators thought CAP wasn’t shown in the best light. Bob Almond writing in the Baptist Collaboration Facebook Group, said CAP came across ‘(in my opinion) as naive and amateurish in their approach to debt and its causes, and exploitative and manipulative of weak and vulnerable people in regards to evangelism.
‘Both things fail to reflect the reality that I see week by week in the work CAP does.’
There was some agreement with that view in the comment thread that followed; with one commenter suggesting that the programme was ‘a bit of a hatchet job,’ adding ‘The unspoken subtext from the programme makers is that CAP was primarily using debt as a vehicle for evangelism, preying on the vulnerable and a bit of a cult to boot.’
Others had a different perspective. Alan Buckley wrote that, for the BBC ‘it was a fairly balanced documentary.’ He said the only disingenuous part was the implication that there was something underhand about the evangelistic side of CAP. ‘There is no suggestion of coercion or undue influence in CAP's methods and I didn't get the impression from the documentary that there was.’ His comment was the most ‘liked’ in the thread.
Further afield, Gavin Calver, an accredited Baptist evangelist and director of mission at the Evangelical Alliance, tweeted: 'Wow, just wow! @JohnKirkby what a total legend! The team @CAPuk are utterly amazing. Incredible that 6000 CAP clients have given their lives to Jesus too. Utterly breathtaking. So wonderful to watch #Debtsaviours on BBC 2 tonight. My heart is so full!'
Others spoke of their unease: James Green tweeted: '#Debtsaviours Seems to be a program on BBC2 where evangelicals are preying on the most vulnerable people in our society. Very creepy.'
CAP was aware of this tension. In A Facebook live interview immediately after the documentary had aired on Friday night, John said the documentary didn’t show the scale of CAP, the skilled accountants who play a major role in helping clients become debt free, how it is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and the inspiring and affirming visit of Martin Lewis, founder of the website of website MoneySavingExpert.com. However, he said it was an accurate depiction of him and his faith – and that the documentary showed ‘lives transformed.’
In a blog post entitled ‘Four things we’ve learned from saying ‘yes’ to a documentary, PR manager Marianne Clough. She wrote that while it wasn’t a perfect representation of CAP, it was still worth doing.
‘Of course, there are frustrations that the documentary didn’t show all we wanted but viewers aren’t daft. They see through it. The clients’ transformation from the start to the end of the programme shone through.’
She also mentioned how the response to the programme was ‘immediate’. CAP had extra teams to keep special phone lines open during the broadcast.
‘In the first few minutes of The Debt Saviours, the calls began. Website hits went through the roof…
‘People in need recognised themselves in the lives of Ronnie and Holly and wanted the same freedom from debt and isolation. A million people in the UK are in outright destitution right now - and they didn't need a second invitation. The Monday after broadcast was our highest ever on record for booking people for that first home visit.’
Just days before the documentary saw the release of an independent report by The London School of Economics Housing and Communities, which had calculated the wider benefits to society from CAP’s work as £32m. The report, called Never Just a Number, says CAP provides 'crucial' face-to-face support which goes far beyond simply debt advice. It describes the debt help as 'intensive and holistic' which is 'highly professional'.
Images | BBC
The Debt Saviours is available on BBC iPlayer
Debt Saviours: Why for Christians Against Poverty, clients are never just a number (Christian Today)
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