It’s great being in a room of would-be Quids in! readers. The conversation is two-way. I learn too; how confidence grows as we show we see things from their point of view.
TIME TO STAND UP, SPEAK UP, GROW UP?
It’s not all money, money, money. We dig deeper. Can we trust everyone? Do we get misled and patronised? Is it time for us to stand up, speak up and, in some ways, grow up?
The 3 Bs usefully play into the ways we use behavioural theory to engage and inspire low income households. Beneath the ‘banking, budgeting and being online’ headlines, we can easily add the usual items from the financial capability agenda like debt, savings and spending. And we can add the one that often gets forgotten – income. FinCap messages are well-established but it’s engagement that remains the challenge.
From the start of the day, we gently ask: ‘Why do people like us so often get such a raw deal?’ This, I learn, is when the conversation comes alive.
There is a sense of injustice that we must engage with if we want our work to resonate with the lives of real people at the poorer end of our community. Our attendees know only too well that it costs more to be poor. They know there are people who’ll relieve us of money when we don’t know what we’re signing up to. They know the better-off know more of the tricks for scoring the best deals. The odds are stacked against people on low incomes. And they know it.
One of the key principles behind the government’s push with Universal Credit is that people should take more responsibility for themselves and their money. It’s a central conservative tenet that people should be accountable for themselves. And as with personal budgets, it’s hard to disagree; people should have control over their own money. It’s just when systems and ideology meet real people that things go wrong.
WHEN WE ASSUME, WE MAKE AN ASS OF 'U' AND 'C'
UC already makes false assumptions about how poorer parts of our community live their lives, from being online to having and using a bank account. Then there’s literacy, numeracy and the IT skills required, and understanding how to suddenly budget for a single monthly income. But there’s a cultural mismatch too and that’s what emerged on the day during our 3 Bs training.
There is a dysfunctional imbalance between haves and have nots when it comes to negotiation and self-advocacy. In the context of UC, it came to light for me during a conversation with a manager at Jobcentre Plus. ‘Why don’t people just tell us what’s going on for them before they sign their Claimant Commitment?’ he asked.
It’s a bigger question than he realised, I think, but I tried to explain how people might fear the ‘benefit police’, or react badly to authority, or defer to it (wrongly) for an easy life, or don’t realise the consequence of over-promising to job search for 35 hours a week. People want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Some don’t want to be a bother. Some accept direction without question. The relationship is out of kilter and it’s the basic model of a parent-child relationship, (as explored by psychologist Eric Berne). It’s just UC demands an adult-adult dialogue.
In our 3 Bs training session, we looked at scenarios where people felt pushed into agreeing to things they later regretted. We discussed sanctions and Claimant Commitments, Brighthouse and coffee shop discounts. We talked about consumer rights, like demanding a basic bank account if a bank claims to offer them.
BALANCE OF POWER
We talked about how to shift the balance of power. How doing a little research, knowing your rights, speaking up and showing we know what we’re entitled to makes a surprising difference to how we're treated. Why do shop staff and Jobcentre advisers talk to us differently if we have someone with us? Why do doorstep salespeople want us to sign up there and then - and not speak to a friend or relative first?
Feedback to the 3 Bs session was very positive. We connected. And I think the improved confidence the attendees reported is perhaps the most important impact. Yes, they left knowing how to give our readers top tips on spending wisely, avoiding debt and raising their income... and of course, knowing it for themselves. But if they are more able to stand their ground next time a bank tries to turn them away, or a weekly payment store forces high cost insurance on them, or a doorstep lender offers them a high interest loan, then we have engaged.