Natalie Williams
17 days to go until Brexit...

Assuming we leave the EU on 31 October, we have just 17 days to go before we are liberated from the shackles of our European neighbours, or until we are plunged into chaos, depending on how you see it.

But at this point in time, just two and an half weeks away from either leaving with a deal or without one (unless there’s an extension), the main issue for the Christian should not be whether or not you want us to remain in or leave the EU. Those who worship Jesus are called to care about the plight of those in need, and there is a growing body of evidence – including from the Government itself – that Brexit will have a short- to medium-term impact that makes the lives of the poorest harder.

The GMB Union, for example, estimates that a food shop for a family could rise by an average of £800 per year – or 17% – in the event of a no deal Brexit. There is also likely to be a shortage of some foods in the short-term, because around 30% of UK food is imported from the EU. I know people who have already started to stockpile food and medicine. If panic-buying takes place, supermarkets shelves could be empty of different kinds of food and toiletries.

While hopefully people can get over the fact that olives might be in short supply, the impact of food shortages will be most keenly felt by those who have the least. If you don’t know how you’re going to afford this week’s food shop, there’s no way you can afford to fill your cupboards to last for several weeks.

For the Christian, now is not the time to simply hope for the best, nor is it the time to live in fear. It’s the time to prepare. If life gets harder for those in poverty in the months immediately after Brexit (which is especially likely if we leave without a deal, but also anticipated even if we leave with a deal), what can we be doing in the next 17 days to help?

Talk to your local council
In August local authorities were told to appoint a ‘Brexit lead’ within their organisation. Your council will be talking among its different departments and to other agencies in your local area about planning for Brexit, especially if we leave without a deal. Contacting them now will be helpful to them and to you – you will be able to offer to be part of their strategy for supporting the most vulnerable, but you will also be able to prepare more effectively if you know what others in your borough or district are doing.

At my church, we started speaking with Hastings Borough Council just a couple of weeks ago, and they have acted very quickly to help us to restock our foodbank’s reserves in advance of Brexit, from the £30,000 they were given by central Government to prepare. (Councils have been allocated various amounts, depending on the assessment of risk to their borough or district.)

Have a strategy
This doesn’t need to be an onerous or cumbersome piece of work, it might literally be that you appoint someone on your own leadership team to think through a few questions. For example:

o    Looking at our stats for the last couple of years, can we make any projections about how busy our social action projects will be this winter?

o    How will we cope if demand for them increases by 10% this winter? What about if it goes up by 20%?

o    What can we put in place in our foodbank or soup kitchen or debt centre (and so on) now to help us prepare in case that happens? (For example, at my local foodbank we’re hoping to recruit a small team who can pick up donations from supermarkets just over the winter months, to alleviate some of the pressure on the small number who already do this during our quieter months.)

o    If there’s civil unrest or panic, how will we get involved and be peace-makers in the community?

o    Depending on how bad things get, what pastoral support might you offer to those who cannot get their medicines or who are distressed for whatever reason?

These are just some examples of things we can be thinking about over the next 17 days so we’re not taken by surprise if we suddenly need to respond to the short-term impact of Brexit.

Help your congregation
Think through some things it might be helpful for you to communicate to church members over the next couple of weeks. For example, there’s much to say about how we can love their neighbours well over the next few months, mostly in real life, but also on social media!

It is also helpful to think through a godly response to stockpiling and panic-buying, that is others-centred and not self-centred. If you have a largely affluent community in your church, perhaps they can start buying food, toiletries, nappies, etc., steadily and slowly over the next 17 days (so as not to cause a panic!) so that your church projects are well stocked. Or they can keep the items to one side for their friends, family, neighbours and colleagues who may struggle to provide for themselves in the coming months.

What can your mid-week groups be doing to think about how to help others if life gets tougher for a while?

Pray, obviously
On your own, in small groups, and as a whole church, please pray for both the poorest and the powerful. That the former will know they can turn to the church and find help in their time of need, and that the latter will make wise decisions based on the common good, and will be particularly mindful of how their decisions will affect the poorest. Pray for you community. Have your church’s ‘Brexit lead’ contact not just the council, but also the police, the fire service, any large local housing associations and charities that support the vulnerable, to ask them what they’re most worried about, what you can be praying for them, and how you can support them as they look to support others.

In November, we will be publishing a Jubilee+ booklet to help you and your church prepare and act if poverty deepens in our nation. You can sign up to our newsletter via the footer on the homepage to find out when it’s released. We hope you’ll find it useful – but please don’t wait until then to prepare!