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What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty…

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Tackling poverty runs through everything we do at the Wales Co-operative Centre; from helping people in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas to improve their financial capability, to supporting people to get online and learn new skills that can help them back into work or start a business. We also work with social enterprises and co-operatives, to help develop stronger, more sustainable and better businesses.

Here, Jocelle Lovell, Financial Inclusion Project Manager, discusses the role of financial inclusion in tackling poverty…

This week (Tuesday, 4 November), I was invited to speak at ‘Advice & Support’, Carmarthenshire’s Network Event in the Halliwell Centre, Trinity St Davids, Carmarthen. The topic was ‘What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty’; the challenge was taking something that I could talk about all day and putting it into a 20 minute presentation.

So I started with the three key elements of Financial Inclusion:

  1. Accessibility – being able to access the financial services and products needed to participate fully in modern-day society and manage money effectively
  2. Literacy – having the ability to understand the words and numbers used in financial products
  3. Capability – having the ability to interpret the information and use it to make informed decisions appropriate to an individual’s circumstances.

Have people got the tools, the knowledge, the right environment and the confidence to manage their personal money? If not, they are financially excluded. Why is this a problem? Well here are just a few examples;

  • If you do not have a bank account with a direct debit facility you will pay more for services & utilities
  • Poor or no credit history may well exclude you from low interest loans from mainstream lenders (banks, building societies), often leaving no option other than high interest loans, payday loans or a worst case scenario using a loan shark.
  • Your choices are limited i.e. buying a product online at the best price versus using the likes of BrightHouse or Provident
  • Lack of understanding or choice can lead to ‘costly’ inappropriate decisions.

People who are financially excluded are more likely to need support from publicly funded services. The likely impact of paying more for their products and services is that they will remain in poverty. Living in poverty is becoming a social norm. Poverty is not a new problem, but following the recent years of economic decline, it is becoming more and more prevalent across our communities. There are many good initiatives across Wales that are trying to address these issues, both locally and nationally. But we still have 1 in 5 working and non working households across Wales living in poverty (Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Wales), along with:

  • Increased demand on foodbanks
  • Increased high street presence of modern day pawn brokers and loan companies
  • Increased demand for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)
  • Increased number of services being transferred online banking, welfare benefits
  • Closures of local banks and post offices.

So tackling financial exclusion must be a priority if we are to reduce the number of people living in poverty across Wales. For many, this will mean changing attitudes and behaviors towards money and educating people on the responsible options available.

Where there is challenge, there is opportunity…

In light of Welfare Reforms, reduction in public spending and recommendations from the Williams Commission, is now not an opportune time to radically rethink how we deliver services, fund local delivery strategies and generate sustainable job creation?
eud y defnydd gorau o’r rhyngrwyd a thechnoleg ddigidol.

Financial Inclusion Together project comes to an end but leaves a lasting legacy to help tackle poverty

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Rhian Hughes 2012

Rhian Hughes

Rhian Hughes, Financial Inclusion Champion in North Wales, tells us how she felt privileged to speak at the Conwy & Denbighshire Local Service Board – Financial Inclusion Together (FIT) project end event on Friday (24 October 2014). Supported by the European Social Fund, the aim of FIT was to tackle poverty by developing, co-ordinating and promoting financial inclusion within Local Service Board (LSB) organisations across Conwy and Denbighshire.

Having worked closely on FIT from its inception, and being a member of the Project Board, it was also a pleasure to hear others speak so positively about the project and the outcomes it has achieved.

The event was led by Alan Smith from Denbighshire County Council, who is the Chair of the Project Board. Others who shared their experience of the project were Bev Moore, LSB Development Officer for Denbighshire, who gave an overview of the project’s achievements. Cath Richards, Benefits Manager for Conwy Council, described how Conwy were embedding and incorporating financial inclusion in to their strategic planning. Chris Bailey, a Debt and Money Adviser for Clwyd Alyn, explained how they will be incorporating the training in to their day to day activity.

Andrew Bowden, Chair of the Conwy & Denbighshire LSB said he was ‘proud and pleased’ to have been involved in the project, and Cllr Philip Edwards of Conwy Council, who is also the Anti Poverty Champion for the local authority, said it was a ‘privilege’ to be a part of this project. Both Andrew Bowden and Philip Edwards are members of the Project Board.

This event was a culmination of 18 months work to achieve some very impressive outcomes, including our aim to train 1000 front line staff from LSB partner organisations to equip them with the knowledge and skills to support their service users. We are confident that our target will be reached when the project ends at the end of December. These front line workers have also been equipped with quality resources to support them in their work. We have also exceeded some of the targets we set at the beginning of the project, including increasing the knowledge and confidence of frontline workers to recognise financial exclusion.

A surprising outcome was also the fact that 73% of those who attended the training, felt that they themselves were more financially included as a result, through the training and also in a position to pass this on to their family and friends. We also heard from a frontline worker’s experience of attending the training and how they were then able to support service users experiencing financial difficulty.

Representatives from Welsh Government, housing associations, and the third sector also attended the event, as well as Iwan Davies, Chief Executive of Conwy Council and other strategic members from both Conwy and Denbighshire County Councils. Although the project will end at the end of December, a change of culture has taken place within the LSB partner organisations and we will see financial inclusion as part of their strategic planning. The work will not end and we will continue to tackle poverty and financial exclusion by working together.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Llwyfan cenedlaethol i brosiect ‘Taclo Digartrefedd’ y Ganolfan

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Dros yr ychydig flynyddoedd diwethaf, bûm yn ffodus i annerch amrywiol gynadleddau, rhwydweithiau a digwyddiadau eraill ynglŷn â gwaith y prosiect Taclo Digartrefedd trwy Gynhwysiant Ariannol rydym yn gyfrifol amdano yng Nghanolfan Cydweithredol Cymru. Bydd y cyfle i gynnal sesiwn ymylol yn Symposiwm Digartrefedd y DU, yng Nghaerdydd, yn ein rhoi ar lwyfan cenedlaethol am y tro cyntaf a hefyd yn ein galluogi i rannu arfer gorau â’n cymheiriaid o bob cwr o’r wlad.

Mae rhai themâu allweddol i’r symposiwm – dysgu, gweithio mewn partneriaeth ac arloesi – sydd oll yn cyd-fynd â’n gwaith a ffocws strategol y Ganolfan ar daclo tlodi. Yn y digwyddiad, byddaf yn rhoi ein gwaith yn ei gyd-destun trwy siarad am ei berthnasedd i Ddeddf Tai Llywodraeth Cymru, a ddaeth i rym y mis diwethaf, a’r cyfleoedd a ddaw yn ei sgil.

Er enghraifft, wrth ystyried tenantiaid bregus, yn y gorffennol byddai cyn-droseddwr wedi cael tenantiaeth chwe mis yn unig mewn tŷ cymdeithasol. Nawr, gallai gael cartref yn y Sector Rhentu Preifat o dan denantiaeth safonedig – byddai hyn yn rhoi mwy o sicrwydd o fewn daliadaeth.

Byddaf hefyd yn siarad am ganfyddiadau’r gwaith a wnaethom yng Nghaerffili, gyda’r Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol a landlordiaid preifat, lle rydym wedi ymweld â chartrefi tenantiaid y mae eu landlordiaid yn derbyn eu rhent o dan y polisi Diogelu. Mae’r holl denantiaid rydym wedi ymweld â nhw wedi elwa ar gael eglurhad manwl o sut y bydd y Diwygiadau Lles yn effeithio arnynt yn bersonol, ynghyd â’r camau y gallant eu cymryd i helpu i baratoi at gyflwyno Credyd Cynhwysol.

Byddaf yn cyfeirio at Gomisiwn Williams a sut y gall y posibilrwydd y bydd llai o awdurdodau lleol yng Nghymru arwain at heriau a chyfleoedd i’r sector tai. Er ei bod yn bosibl y bydd llai o adnoddau ac arian, gallai adrefnu fel hyn arwain at ailfeddwl am sut y mae gwasanaethau’n cael eu darparu, gan wella’r ffordd y mae pobl yn cael help i gael mynediad i’r gwasanaeth/ymyrraeth gywir ar yr amser cywir.

Mae’n amlwg bod angen i landlordiaid wneud rhagor i gefnogi tenantiaid yn y Sector Rhentu Preifat; nid oes fawr ddim rhyngweithio rhwng llawer ohonynt â’u tenantiaid. Fodd bynnag, gwyddom hefyd y gall rhai tenantiaid fod yn amharod i helpu’u hunain, i fynegi’u pryderon a gofyn am help oherwydd eu bod yn ofni cael eu troi allan o’u cartrefi. Mae angen i landlordiaid, awdurdodau lleol a sefydliadau cymorth gyfathrebu’n well â’i gilydd – mae peth arfer da ond nid yw’n gyson ledled Cymru. Mae angen i ni weld partneriaethau cryfach yn cael eu datblygu rhwng awdurdodau lleol a landlordiaid preifat, gan arwain at ddealltwriaeth well o wendidau tenantiaid a’r gefnogaeth y mae arnynt ei hangen. Yn y bôn, mae angen i awdurdodau lleol weld landlordiaid preifat fel partner tai strategol.

Fe wna i ddistewi nawr, neu byddaf wedi dweud y cyfan! Hefyd, bydd gweithdai yn cael eu cynnal yn hwyrach yn y dydd a fydd yn manylu ymhellach ar rai o’r materion y byddaf yn siarad amdanynt.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

Centre’s ‘Tackling Homelessness’ project set for UK bow

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate to address various conferences, networks and other events on the work of the Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion Project that we run at the Wales Co-operative Centre. The opportunity to run a fringe session at the UK Homelessness Symposium, in Cardiff, will put us on a national stage for the first time and also enable us to share best practice with our counterparts from around the country.

The symposium has some key themes running through it – learning, partnership working and innovation – all of which chime with our work. At the event, I will put our work into context by talking about its relevance to the Welsh Government’s Housing Act, that became law last month, and the opportunities it brings.

I’ll also talk about the findings from the work we’ve done in Caerphilly, with the County Borough Council and private landlords that has seen us carry out home visits with tenants whose landlords receive their rent under the Safeguarding policy. All of the tenants we visited have benefitted from a detailed explanation of how the Welfare Reforms will affect them personally, along with measures they can take to help prepare for the introduction of Universal Credit.

I’ll touch upon the Williams Commission and how the potential reduction in local authorities in Wales can again lead to challenges and opportunities for the housing sector. While there may be a reduction in resources and funding, such a shake-up could lead to rethinking on the delivery of services, improving the way people are helped to access the right service/intervention at the right time.

It’s clear that landlords need to do more to support tenants in the Private Rented Sector; many have little or no interaction with their tenants. However, we also know that some tenants can be reluctant to help themselves, to speak up and ask for help. Landlords, local authorities and support organisations need better communication with each other – there is some good practice but it’s not consistent throughout Wales. We need to see stronger partnerships being built between local authorities and private landlords, leading to a better understanding of tenants’ vulnerabilities and the support they require. Essentially, local authorities need to view private landlords as a strategic housing partner.

I’ll leave it there, otherwise I’ll give everything away! Also, there are workshops taking place later in the day that will go into greater detail on some of the issues that I’ll be talking about.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

The Wales Co-operative Centre discusses financial inclusion and its impact on tenants in the private rented sector

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Jocelle Lovell, our Financial Inclusion Project Manager, discusses the projects work with the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

Last week, Shelter Cymru held a PRS conference, at the Liberty Stadium Swansea, and our Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion Project, was delighted to be invited along to deliver a workshop.

Having attended many events that generally focus on what’s wrong with the PRS, it was very welcoming to see the sector being discussed in a positive light. Attendees included private landlords, lettings agents, the Residential Landlords Association, along with local authority housing & Supporting People teams, the Oak Foundation, the Wallich and a host of other support agencies and projects.

The event was a great platform for the Centre to share the learnings and best practice gathered over the past two years working with tenants in the PRS.

Findings from our pilot with Caerphilly County Borough Council found that out of 67 tenants visited;

  • 67.9% stated they were aware that benefits are changing
  • Over 50% had taken Department of Work Pensions or Job Centre Plus loan or used a door step lender in the past 12 months
  • 62.5% had faced difficulty paying rent in the past 12 months
  • 60% had faced difficulty paying gas/electric in the past 12 months
  • 52.5% had faced difficulty paying for Food in the past 12 months
  • 48.3% wanted budgeting advice
  • 58.6% wanted debt advice
  • Over 50% needed referrals to additional services including food banks.

Many of the tenants visited, either didn’t know what support they could access or didn’t like to ask for help. This was exacerbated if they had a bad experience in the past.

Having listened to the other speakers throughout the day, some of the key points which reflect our thinking stayed with me:

  • Communication needs to improve between, local authorities, support services, landlords and tenants.
  • Landlords and tenants are less aware of the support available and how it can be accessed
  • There are some great examples of innovative working practices across Wales, but this is not consistent across all local authorities
  • The need for landlord and tenant training
  • More needs to be done when tenants are first housed into the PRS, early intervention can prevent crisis
  • The PRS should be recognised as a strategic housing partner
  • Some tenants want the flexibility of a short term tenancy, due to their transient nature and uncertainty of job security.

Simon White from Welsh Government, delivered an informative session on the Renting Homes Bill consultation and it’s implications for local authorities, landlords and tenants. Overall people welcomed the notion to simplify and restrict the number of tenancy agreements currently being used across the housing sector, but some were concerned that the changes may take away tenants flexibility to a short term tenancy. Due to the Centre’s work in the private rented sector and its Co-operative Housing Project, we have submitted a formal response to both the Renting Homes Bill and The Housing White Paper.

Written by Ieuan Nash

October 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Welsh Government’s vision for credit unions set out by Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty

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The Wales Co-operative Centre runs a number of projects that promote financial inclusion and that provide advice on money management. These projects are a key part of the Centre’s role in developing and implementing solutions to strengthen communities and promote inclusion in Wales. Rhian Hughes, who works on one of these financial inclusion projects, blogs about the recent Welsh Government Credit Union Conference…

Yesterday’s (Thursday 17 July) Welsh Government Credit Union Conference showed the innovative and flexible approach that credit unions have in Wales. Jeff Cuthbert AM, the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, set out the Welsh Government’s vision for credit unions in Wales and that modernising credit unions, so they attract more working middle income earners and work more closely to offer financial products nationally, will help make them fitter for the future.

From offering low cost loans and savings to those who are financially excluded, to offering loans at rates that compete with the high street lenders, credit unions are for everyone and we should all be promoting this around Wales. An example of this is North Wales Credit Union offering a lower rate on loans of £7,500-£15,000 at a very competitive APR compared to the high street.

The Wales Co-operative Centre has a strong history of supporting the credit union movement in Wales, and was pleased to be part of this day. Jo Lovell, Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) Project Manager and Rhian Hughes, North Wales Financial Inclusion Champion, delivered a workshop looking at how credit unions can work with the housing sector.

It was also great to hear about the success of the advertising campaign for Credit Unions Wales, which had been funded by Welsh Government. The all Wales branding shows the partnership working between credit unions in Wales.

So, if you’re not yet a member of your local credit union, what are you waiting for!  Visit – http://www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk/home to find your nearest one.

Written by Ieuan Nash

July 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Modern Pioneers campaign launched for Co-operatives Fortnight

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Today marks the start of a campaign that the Wales Co-operative Centre is running for Co-operatives Fortnight (21st June – 5th July) that shows the strength and diversity of co-operative businesses in Wales.

Through a series of blog posts, the ‘Modern Pioneers’ campaign highlights the sizes and types of co-operatives in Wales and the sectors in which they operate. It’s inspired by the Rochdale Pioneers, who are among the forefathers of the co-operative movement.

We’ve worked with 14 people, who are at the heart of their own businesses, to explain what it’s like to be a part of the co-operative movement in Wales, why they got involved in the first place and how they see the role of co-operatives in the Welsh economy. We’ve also attempted to replicate the famous, original image of the Rochdale Pioneers, through a series of special photo-shoots around Wales, with the magical, finishing touches made on Photoshop.

The Modern Pioneers Back row (L to R)  Peter Jones (Wrexham Supporters' Trust), Cliff Vanstone (John Lewis), Steve Meredith (PrimePac Solutions), Kevin Edwards (AFS Ltd), Ivor Williams (Llanmadoc Community Shop), Marc Jones (Saith Seren), Alun Taylor (Smart Money Credit Union) Front row (L to R) Alison Banton (Dulas), June Jones (Co-operative Group), David Jenkins (Wales Co-operative Centre), Amy Sanders (Dynamix), Alan Armstrong (Barod), Andrew Lycett (RCT Homes), Cris Tomos (4CG)

The Modern Pioneers
Back row (L to R) Peter Jones (Wrexham Supporters’ Trust), Cliff Vanstone (John Lewis), Steve Meredith (PrimePac Solutions), Kevin Edwards (AFS Ltd), Ivor Williams (Llanmadoc Community Shop), Marc Jones (Saith Seren), Alun Taylor (Smart Money Credit Union)
Front row (L to R) Alison Banton (Dulas), June Jones (Co-operative Group), David Jenkins (Wales Co-operative Centre), Amy Sanders (Dynamix), Alan Armstrong (Barod), Andrew Lycett (RCT Homes), Cris Tomos (4CG)

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 people, around half of whom were weavers, that was formed in 1844. As the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store, selling food items they could not otherwise afford. With lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months they struggled to pool one £1 per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meagre selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. Ten years later, the British co-operative movement had grown to nearly 1,000 co-operatives.

The Rochdale Pioneers

The Rochdale Pioneers

The rest, as they say, is history. The Rochdale Pioneers are often talked about in the same breath as Robert Owen, as being the forefathers of the co-operative movement. We hope our Modern Pioneers campaign helps to increase awareness of the roots of co-operative development, while showing what today’s co-operatives in Wales are achieving.

We’d just like to thank all of our Modern Pioneers who participated, as well as those who hosted the photo-shoots, including Saith Seren, the Robert Owen Museum, Dynamix, 4CG and the John Lewis store in Cardiff. Thanks also to Mike Dean of Eye Imagery Photography for working with us on this project.

Written by Mark Smith

June 20, 2014 at 8:00 am

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