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Life’s surprises mean saving is more important now, than ever before

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It’s just before Christmas. Whilst many people are putting their ‘out of office’ messages on and joining the supermarket frenzy, I am spending a little time this afternoon thinking back on my year.

Anyone that knows me might suggest that I am thinking ‘good riddance to 2014’ but that’s not the case. I am just reflecting.

I have worked in ‘money’ over a number of years; financial advice, debt advice, financial inclusion and tackling poverty. In January 2014, Citizens Advice reported that there was a 39% increase in the number of people seeking online help with debt problems in the previous year. With their latest statistics due to be reported shortly, there are few that would expect that trend to reverse. Rising prices for energy, food and housing is putting extra pressure on people’s finances. Bureaux are finding that payday loans, credit cards and overdrafts are being used to top up people’s income as wages remain static. savings

Problematic debt occurs most often when personal finances are pushed to the limit…..and then something happens. Losing a job (or indeed a drop in working hours available), an addition to the family, ill health or suddenly having caring responsibilities can all be a catalyst. They all affect income and if there is no savings as a buffer, well, it’s not going to go well is it?

This summer Legal and General published data from their survey of almost 5,000 people. The Deadline to the Breadline is the number of days the average UK household could survive financially if the main breadwinner’s income is lost through long-term sickness, critical illness or death before being totally reliant on state benefits, friends or family. The average Deadline to Breadline period in the UK is 29 days. In Wales it’s 7 days. That’s because here in Wales fewer people have a back-up plan to deal with an unforeseen shock to our income.

So why at this cheery, festive time of the year is my blog post apparently full of doom and gloom? Well it’s not. From a personal perspective it’s not so much a ‘cup’s half empty’ as ‘cup’s half full’ view. It could have been me that was facing that breadline this year. Let’s just say that all plans for a normal year changed suddenly in the Spring and 6 months’ sick leave later I am back to work and acknowledging how lucky I am to be able to do so. I also appreciate working for an organisation that is so supportive of its staff when things go wrong and I am well aware that employees of many other companies are not as fortunate.

This is not something that happens to other people, it’s something that happens to us, any of us. My message is simple. Let’s make 2015 the year that we (all of us) do a bit better with our back-up plans. Yes, money is tight but it’s worth thinking about and making any adjustments to spending to save at least a little. An online savings calculator, on the Money Made Clear Wales website, can help

Credit unions are a great place to put money aside for the unexpected. A little bit, put away regularly can really mount up. Safe, ethically sound and instant access, they offer an ideal place to keep your savings far enough away from temptation but near enough to access when needed. Hopefully you won’t need it to fall back on it, but it’s there if you do.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2015.

Katija Dew is the Financial Inclusion Programme Director at the Wales Co-operative Centre

 

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Written by Katija Dew

December 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Learning lessons from the Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) Project

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THFI Project Manager, Jocelle Lovell, takes some time to reflect on the launch of the project’s legacy report, which took place this week, on Wednesday 3rd December

I was going to write a blog on the day in the hope of capturing all of the passion, enthusiasm and interest in our work, but then I decided to take time to reflect on the event:

The project has been a 3 year roller coaster ride with plenty of highs and lows, and having to constantly evolve to reflect changes outside of our control. The biggest challenge being, the lack of detail early on regarding the roll out of Universal Credit.

The event was very kindly hosted by the Huggard Centre, which for me sent a very poignant message. Our work is very much focused on the prevention of homelessness, whilst the work of the Huggard Centre is trying to break the cycle of homelessness. Prevention projects, like ours, are vital if we are to reduce the number of people who end up living on the streets, sofa surfing or living in temporary hostel accommodation.

We were very grateful to have Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, speak at the event, where it was recognised our work brought together all the elements of her portfolio.

The event was not only an opportunity to thank the project’s funders, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation, but also to showcase our work to our new funders, Comic Relief, who found the event very informative and gave them insight into our thinking and methodology.

Attendees came from local authorities, credit unions, funders and third sector organisations. Whilst most were familiar with our work, and had been active partners, the event highlighted new opportunities, with many attendees requesting follow up meetings to see how we can work together in the future.

There is still so little we know about the Private Rented Sector, and so much more work to be done, but now is as good a time as any to get started…….

You can find the full report here.

We tweeted live from the launch using #THFI. Below is what some attendees had to say:

Full house @WalesCoOpCentre #THFI report launch ‘Need to engage with #PRS 2 improve #housingWales & #Financial Inclusion
#thfi manager Jo Lovell – ‘thfi’s ability to adapt and evolve to environment, has been key to success’ #THFI

@WG_CommunityMin: Spoke at @WalesCoOpCentre #thfi launch about the role of financial security in preventing homelessness & helping people live fulfilled lives

Written by Ieuan Nash

December 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm

The definition of poverty – the income conundrum

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Whilst government and political parties will no doubt be debating their record on poverty in advance of the general election, next year, is it time for a rethink on how we define and measure it? It’s something that we’ve been considering at the Wales Co-operative Centre, given the ways in which our work supports the wider tackling poverty agenda.

Many of us working in this field have, over the years, disagreed with the relative nature of its definition. This, in my view, is one of its fundamental flaws. To cut through the technicalities if Mr Jones’ income was low enough, he would be defined as living in poverty. If his income remained the same but the rest of the nation’s income fell, he would be lifted out of poverty. He would still have the same income and the same bills to pay, but he would no longer be officially hard up. This is because Mr Jones’ status of living in poverty is related to his income compared with everyone else’s, not how well he is able to live on the money he has coming in. poverty envelopes

‘A new approach to reducing poverty should adopt a clear definition of poverty, which is based on resources and household needs, not just a narrow measure of relative income’ says a new report published by the Bevan Foundation. Its report, ‘Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action’, points to three clear required actions; raising incomes, meeting minimum needs and essential skills.

This wider definition includes some important elements but the issue of income and money still troubles me. Why? The reason is that I have worked with many people who, on the face of it, have a moderate income but because their outgoings are so high, their disposable income is extremely low….so low sometimes that they can’t feed themselves or their family. Back to Mr Jones; if his employer starts paying the living wage, he may not be lifted out of poverty, it depends on everyone else’s income. Whether he can feed his family is immaterial.

This is where financial inclusion and financial capability are critical. Every person needs to have a safe, secure and flexible place to manage their money and the knowledge and confidence to manage it well and make the most of what they have coming in. This means access to responsible financial products and debt advice when things go wrong. Credit unions are a great starting point for many people who have been excluded from these essential services for far too long.

Teej Dew is Programme Director for Financial Inclusion at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Written by Katija Dew

December 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in Wales want a job but do not have one.  More than 8,000 households were homeless in 2013 and 79,000 people needed food aid.  One in three children lives in a low income family. This is the stark backdrop to the Bevan Foundation’s new report “Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action”, which is of great interest to us at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that we do that supports the wider poverty agenda.

The report argues that digital and financial skills are essential to help people out of poverty, or at least mitigate its impact.  About digital inclusion, the report says:

“Digital skills are an important adjunct to literacy and numeracy, as more and more services are either available only online, or offer time and/or cash savings if accessed online. The shift towards online benefit claims is a particularly strong driver of change. People without access to the internet and without the skills to use it are disadvantaged. There is a marked income-effect in digital exclusion – in 2013, only 1 in 10 (9%) of those in managerial and professional occupations did not use the internet compared to more than three in ten (31%) of those who had semi-routine and routine occupations.

“It is very welcome that digital skills have a relatively high profile in the 2013 Tackling Poverty Action Plan.  The plan includes the Digital Inclusion delivery plan’s targets, the targets for which have mostly been met.  The commitment to digital skills and inclusion should continue, with challenging targets for people in low income groups, with programmes of sufficient scale and impact to achieve them.”

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The achievement of the targets in the Digital Inclusion delivery plan was due to the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  How is this going to work then when Communities 2.0 comes to an end in March next year?  Well, we need everyone in Wales working to tackle poverty to take digital inclusion seriously.  Our experience is that the current practice is too patchy.  And to get this consistency we need a strong, lean leading digital inclusion project  to help all front line services deliver effective digital skills support.

The Bevan Foundation report is blunt about the nature of the challenge.  For the last eight years, there has been no improvement at all in the number of Welsh people living in poverty.  And that number is set to rise.  Yes, we need an informed debate.  But we also need action.

Dave Brown is the Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Swansea City Council at the forefront of Private Rented Sector engagement in Wales

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For the past three years, the Wales Co-operative Centre have been funded to work with private rented sector landlords and their tenants, local authorities, credit unions and support providers. The aim of our work has been to improve tenants financial capability, and in turn help then to sustain their tenancies or access more appropriate and affordable housing.

Jocelle Lovell, the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Financial Inclusion Project Manager, said credit where credit is due, Swansea City Council are taking a really proactive approach to working with their private rented sector (PRS) landlords.

Last night, I attended the annual PRS Forum at the Guild Hall, in Swansea, along with 80 to 100 other landlords.

The agenda wasn’t too busy, which helped to keep the evening focussed, and we heard short presentations from:

  • Welsh Governments Simon White on Housing Act (Wales) 2014, Renting Homes Bill and what the model contracts will look like
  • Anne Rowland (seconded to Welsh Government) on Regulation of the PRS Housing Act (Wales) 2014, the Housing Act and landlord registration and licensing and how this is going to work
  • Both of which are of interest to the Centre’s own work with the Welsh housing sector, through both Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion and the Co-operative Housing projects.

The presentation which really caught my attention was by Marcia Williams of The Wallich, about the new PRS access scheme they are developing with Swansea City Council. Having consulted with landlords, they are now developing a scheme which will bring together the various local authority departments relevant to housing including environmental health and planning, along with support and advice. This one stop shop model will focus purely on the PRS, offering a wide range of services that will include; advice, pre tenancy and in tenancy support and housing management functions to landlords and their tenants.

Swansea clearly recognises the significance of the PRS and its role as a strategic housing partner, developing a very proactive approach to engaging with the sector, in order to make more properties available to meet the growing demand for affordable housing options.

The evening ended with a Q&A sessions and the raffle, where winning ticket holders received bags with Carbon monoxide detectors and small fire extinguishers amongst other things.

Written by Ieuan Nash

November 14, 2014 at 11:28 am

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

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