Tackling Poverty: “We ALL need to use and invest in credit unions”
Last week, Katija Dew, our Financial Inclusion Programme Director and Financial Inclusion Champion for Wales, attended and spoke at a high-level event that looked into the issue of Poverty and Welfare Reform in Wales. Here’s her account of the Policy Forum for Wales conference that took place in Cardiff:
“The discussions were interesting and ‘lively’ I would say.
We heard from a range of speakers from the education, voluntary and support sectors, along with the Taxpayers Alliance and Stephen Crabb, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Wales, about Welfare Reform and Poverty. This subject is so big, so complex and so…emotive, hence the lively debate.
On a policy level, Wales is forward thinking. Dr Jim McCormick of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reflected that Wales has the most focussed plans for Tackling Poverty of the UK nations. Health, education, employment, housing; it seems it’s all there. So what was Dr McCormick’s parting message? It was that whilst devolved nations have little control over the welfare system, the primary source of tackling poverty is within their gift. That is the building of a strong economy that provides jobs and the building of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can take those jobs.
On a practical level, I spent my precious five speaking minutes on more immediate concerns; the use of payday lending services and use of credit unions as an alternative. Yes, credit unions are a responsible alternative lending vehicle, but we need to be fair. There is a reason that other financial institutions don’t provide these services. Sending vulnerable, and frankly expensive to serve, customers to them produces an imbalance in their membership. As a social enterprise they are keen to support financially excluded members but can only do so if all of us invest in and use them. That’s you and I.
A question was asked about illegal money lending and what needs to be done to prevent its exponential spread in the new benefits environment. Of course, we need a strong and well supported Illegal Money Lending team to help tackle the problem but for me, the answer starts with financial inclusion. People have to have an accessible account in which they can receive their income. That account must have the transactional facilities needed to keep their money safe. Beyond that, they need to have the knowledge and capability to use that account to make the most of their money. If, for any reason, that is not possible the Government’s ‘alternative payment arrangement’ safety net should cut in for all that need it.
Financial inclusion is the not the answer to tackling poverty, but it gives people control over the money they have.”
You can find more information about our financial inclusion work on the Wales Co-operative Centre website.
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