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Annual Report to Oxford Local Meeting for Worship for Business - September 2017

1. What is OxFAP and how we work

OxFAP (Oxford Friends Action on Poverty) is Oxford Meeting’s response to poverty, inequality and need on our doorstep. The committee distributes funds raised from individual members of the Meeting, and from funds allocated by the Meeting as a whole. We give sums between £50 and £200 to individuals who approach us via organisations we know in Oxford. These individual grants are for things that will make a difference in helping them to get back on track in their lives. We also give some grants to Oxford voluntary organisations when possible. Many claims arise from gaps in the benefit and support systems provided for vulnerable people coming out of prison, asylum seekers, and those with insecure housing. We have seen further increases in applications from individuals, particularly in these situations.

The current OxFAP committee

The OxFAP team is appointed by the Nominations Committee of Oxford Quaker Meeting. The current team is Anne Watson (convenor) Tany Alexander, Tina Leonard, Brighid Schroer, Mena Remedios, and Stewart Jeffrey appointed from Headington Meeting.

2. Funding and how it was spent

2a. Expenditure

Between August 2016 and August 2017 we were unable to give significant block grants to organisations, but have given small sums to the National Probation Service, the Street Population Outreach Team and Citizens' Advice Bureau to cover immediate low cost needs and hence avoid delays in urgent cases.

Grants to individuals through agency case workers

This year the scale and urgency of need has continued to rise and sometimes put a strain on the burden of administration for the Committee, and on our emotions, but we are coping and learning all the time. We make payments mostly by bank transfer and are grateful for the work of Richard Stamper in carrying out the payments at short notice. Gatehouse have a new case worker who applies to us for funds from time to time and we have developed a special relationship with her as there is no suitable bank account there.

Total grants to individuals via known agencies (at 8th August 2017):

Sandwiches for the Gatehouse:

The cost of providing sandwiches and cakes once a month for the evening drop-in centre in St Giles is an OxFAP expenditure. Elisabeth Salisbury and John Gould continue to make and deliver the sandwiches on behalf of Oxford Meeting, as they have done since 2005. Many thanks!

2b Income and available funds

For the year 1st August 2016 to 31st July 2017

  • Income = £11701.19
  • Expenditure = £12221.58
  • In-year surplus/(deficit) = (£520.39)
  • Balance carried forward = £7184.60

We are grateful to Richard for clarifying our financial situation, since we have been aware that we were probably spending more than we were receiving. We have been 'running' at about £1000 per month for the last year. Universal Credit becomes the norm in October this year and we are expecting a rise in requests as a result of the way funding will be delayed by at best one month. Claims have to be made online and this is also likely to mean some people will fall into gaps in the system.

3. Pro-active work this year

We now hold our meetings, when possible, in the premises of some of the agencies we support, and are especially keen to get out of central Oxford to get a sense of other environments. We continue to learn more about agencies and their work, and are sometimes able to redirect requests to sources of funds that are specific to people's needs.

We have also written letters to:

The President of Magdalen College about charging market rents to CAB;

The Governing Body of Blackbird Trust and governors of Oxford Spires Academy about provision of special uniform clothes for poor      families who have been forced to move through housing difficulties;

We continue to pester local people, when we come across them, who have made money from the dotcom revolution about provision of hardware for those people who love on the margins of society.

Our message in these letters is that those who make the rules that require poor people to spend more might also help them pay, and that those who make money from the poor might contribute like for like.

There will be a fundraising event on the 14th October from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in our Meeting House. All are welcome.

4. We need your guidance on two matters

a) The situation faced by people in poverty and need continues to get worse as a result of cuts in welfare benefits, more stringent requirements, and more complex systems that confuse vulnerable people who are already finding life difficult. We have tried to maintain a focus on 'turning lives round' but more and more often requests are for maintaining life as it is, particularly where children are involved or where people have fallen into gaps in services and there is no immediate way out. We would like to ask the meeting to allow our remit to be reworded so that we feel we have your support when we give grants that may not help people to get back on track, because they are on a very fragile track in the first place, but do, in the short-term, help people to cope better with where they are.

b) This issue is harder. It is possible for someone with debts less that £20 000 and no means to pay them to apply for a 'Debt Relief Order' (DRO), see here for details. These are a way to write off certain types of debt in certain circumstances, a kind of personal bankruptcy process that means some creditors are never going to get what is owed and cannot chase people for it. We have been asked a few times to fund DROs, which cost £90, where the case worker has ascertained that such an order is the only possible way forward out of debt. Applicants for DROs have to provide details of all income, assets, dependants, debts etc. to be given a DRO. We are reluctant to fund DROs, despite the fact that they are suggested by experienced caseworkers and not automatically granted, without discernment by Oxford LM, since when people donate to us they probably do not envisage that they may be making it possible for people to have their debt responsibilities discharged. So far we have funded two DROs because in each case it did seem to be a way to get back on track and in each case there were also mental health issues involved. However, we will not fund further DROs without the principle having been considered at LM.