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Britons turn to religion over debt worries

By Vivienne Raper

Published: April 12 2009 23:32 | Last updated: April 12 2009 23:32

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Britons are turning from Mammon to religion as the downturn bites – for advice about debt and redundancy, not simply spiritual consolation.

The growing demand for financial and legal advice from places of worship is prompting many to launch a new type of service.

At Regent’s Park Mosque in London, one of the UK’s biggest Islamic cultural centres, demand for free legal advice rose threefold as the downturn took hold, according to Adnan Mahmood, a solicitor who, until recently, gave his services there pro bono.

Abdullah Abdou, the centre’s education officer and librarian, said there had been a noticeable increase in the numbers applying for zakat, a system of tithes similar to “alms for the poor”.

The Church of England and synagogues, meanwhile, have responded to hard times by launching projects to help indebted community members.

Among them is a “credit crunch network” of experts, including lawyers and employment specialists, brought together by Yitzchak Schochet, rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in London, to provide free advice to Jewish community members.

Christian debt counselling charities, including Christians Against Poverty, met Anglican clergy last month for a workshop on supporting people in debt.

“We were alarmed by the number of referrals,” said Jack Maple, community ministry adviser for the Diocese of London. “Apparently Christians Against Poverty have 3,500 new referrals every day.”

The charities offer training to parishes and can provide advice and practical support, such as negotiating with creditors.

One Anglican project recently launched is the Money Advice Centre, a not-for-profit advisory service, at St Paul’s Church in Shadwell, London. Since October, eight volunteers have been trained to give financial advice.

Additional reporting by Sujata Das

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