Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

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Struggling to Make Ends Meet.

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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. Jocelle Lovell, who manages one of these financial inclusion projects, blogs about two recent reports on personal money matters…

In the past month we have seen the publication of the ‘Changing Household Budgets’ report by the Money Advice Trust (MAT) and the National Survey for Wales 2012-13.

Whether we look at this from a UK perspective or a local Welsh one, the evidence clearly shows that both in work and workless households people are struggling to keep up with their financial commitments on a regular basis. More typically those affected are aged between 25 – 44 and 45 -64, and live in the social or private rented sectors. As the nature of the debt has shifted, we are seeing more people falling behind with payments such as rent, gas, electric, phone and catalogue bills.

Evidence from the Wales Co-operative Centre’s own work ‘Tackling Homelessness Through Financial Inclusion’, which is funded by the Oak Foundation and Welsh Government, supports the findings of MAT, in as much as tenants in the private rented sector have struggled in the past 12 months to pay one or several of the following bills; rent, utilities and food. Three quarters of the tenants we visited were on pre-payment meters for gas and, or, electric and had borrowed money from various sources including catalogues and door step lenders. The majority of people visited were on low incomes (£1,000 or less per month), and we witnessed households in budget deficits. Where possible we looked to maximise income through programmes such as Welsh Water Assist, Housing Payments,  and the Discretionary Assistance Fund.

There is a clear need for people to seek advice at an early stage, to stop their problems spiralling out of control to the point that they could potentially become homeless. To achieve this both public and third sector partners need to work collaboratively with organisations such as Money Advice Service (MAS), Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Step Change Debt Charity to ensure services are widely promoted through the various forms of media. Services also need to be accessible and timely in providing advice and support to those in need. With ongoing budget cuts this can be a big challenge but, we know early intervention offers better value for money than costly crisis intervention.

For people experiencing problems with money, or are just looking for some simple advice and guidance, they can go to our moneymadeclearwales.org website. It has been developed as a simple tool to help people navigate their way through the maze of financial information available on the internet. It will direct you to relevant advice and support agencies and to helpful tools such as a cut back calculator and a budgeting tool. The site also has pages on work and money. We know that all too often it can be a difficult transition moving from benefits into work, having to manage for longer periods of no money, needing to pay for travel and so on. The Money Made Clear Wales website offers practical tools and advice to help people.

Digital Inclusion is one of our most effective weapons in the fight against poverty

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Get Merthyr Tydfil Online launch

Get Merthyr Tydfil Online Launch: (Left to Right) Angela Jones – Communities 2.0, Derek Walker, Chief Executive Wales Co-operative Centre, Mike Owen, Chief Executive Merthyr Valleys Homes, Eleanor Marks, Welsh Government, Ian Benbow, Head of Service, Social Regeneration, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, looks at how digital inclusion, financial inclusion and social enterprise support work together to protect people from poverty and to mitigate against its impact.

Today is the launch of Get Swansea Online, a local initiative that aims to help Swansea’s estimated 45,000 digitally excluded residents to use the internet. This is the latest in a series of initiatives brokered by Communities 2.0, the Welsh Government digital inclusion project.

At yesterday’s launch of another initiative, Get Merthyr Tydfil Online, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Jeff Cuthbert congratulated Communities 2.0 on its collaborative and partnership led approach. He emphasised the importance of helping people to get online and use the internet to save money and to find jobs. He stated that “digital exclusion compounds isolation” and said that Get Merthyr Tydfil Online has the potential to “reach the most digitally and financially excluded citizens” in the county. Last week the Minister visited a similar initiative in the Caia Park area of Wrexham. The political will is certainly there to ensure that everyone in Wales has access to the internet and the skills to use it effectively in the fight against poverty – but there is still more to be done.

We are very lucky here in the Wales Co-operative Centre. Through our work as lead partner of Communities 2.0, and through our own projects on financial inclusion and social enterprise development, we see the positive improvements our interventions can bring to the lives of people in real danger of falling below the bread line. Across Wales we see people, helped by Communities 2.0 and our financial inclusion initiatives, gain IT skills and use those skills to get jobs and get out of debt.  Communities 2.0 recently supported Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent MIND’s social enterprise arm ‘Training in MIND’ with an investment of nearly £5,000. The support will help pay for new laptop and desktop computers in their IT suite. The IT suite is manned by volunteers running drop-in sessions for people to update their IT skills and search for jobs. The organisation is currently setting up a work club for people who attend the centre. This is an excellent example of a social enterprise integrating digital inclusion and anti-poverty measures into its social aims and on the ground delivery.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre we also see the difference in our communities when they are engaged and enabled and can build social enterprises that reinvest their surpluses back into training and job creation. Galeri Caernarfon Cyf is a social enterprise that is focussed on regenerating the town of Caernarfon. Over the years it has regenerated properties and spaces in the town and opened up a highly successful arts centre. It now employs 36 full time equivalent jobs directly and supports over 40 in its tenant businesses. It is estimated that this one social enterprise has an economic impact of almost £1.3m to the economies of Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. In fact, Galeri is among just 6% of firms in Gwynedd that employ more than 25 people.

The Wales Co-operative Centre receives funding from a number of different sources to allow us to deliver our support work to communities across Wales. Our funders include the European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation.

This year, we have also led on a project which encourages individuals to use the services of local credit unions to help them ensure that their rent payment gets to their landlords – meaning that they can keep a roof over their own and their family’s heads. In Caerphilly, development staff are working directly with individuals to suggest ways in which they can use existing support and advice to make the money they have last longer.

We are also managing and promoting www.moneymadeclearwales.org  which offers signposting to advice on saving and loans, debt and benefits. Access to digital resources is now intrinsically linked to good money management and to allowing individuals to take control of their own lives.

Financial and digital inclusion doesn’t just reduce isolation, but it allows freedom, liberty and empowerment. It allows individuals and groups to take their next steps forward – individually in the jobs market or as entrepreneurs, and collectively as empowered communities and social enterprises.

We believe that by integrating financial and digital inclusion with community engagement and real support for social enterprises and charities, it is possible to alleviate some of the poverty that currently exists in Wales. But, just as importantly, we believe that this sort of support is empowering. It allows people to make decisions about their own futures. It allows them to build their skills and their confidence and it empowers individuals to lift themselves out of poverty and stay out of it.

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