The first of these programmes saw 16 people attend. Having run training for jobseekers for the past 10 years, I was pretty astounded. That’s a great take-up. Was it the £30 shopping voucher that tempted them in? Priority access to Discretionary Housing Payments? The free lunch? Or desperation?
Or the free crèche? Every one of the attendees was a parent. They had at least two kids but it ranged all the way up to seven. Mostly mums but a couple of dads were there too.
The course ran over three days, 10am til 2pm, led by a local tutor, Tara Sachdeva. Day one included a briefing from the council’s welfare team, who talked through how the benefit cap works; how deduction comes off Housing Benefit first (up to all but 50p so the claim remains in place, providing access to certain other support) and that rent is expected to be paid from the rest of the household’s income; how certain exemptions apply, for example if someone in the household is earning enough to qualify for tax credits or someone is disabled or a carer. Two people discovered they’d be exempt, which I considered a result in its own right, but they stayed for the course in any case.
Then Tara, the learners and I got down to the business of money management. For me, whatever course I’m delivering, my comfort zone is where I’m harnessing the existing knowledge in the room. I would always assume people have some level of money management skill, even if they don’t realise it, but there’s no way I was going to lecture parents on how to organise their budgets, so we started with an ice breaker.
Pretty soon we had them exploring their attitudes and sharing opinions on weekly payment stores, banks and credit unions. We discussed why people find it hard to talk money, the benefit trap and finding advice. Creating a conversation between attendees broke down barriers and they began to recognise they weren’t alone in their situation.
Moving on, we facilitated a more structured review of six key areas of financial capability. They expressed their own ideas and suggestions for managing a budget, appropriate banking services, debt, savings and spending. More abstract but, I’d argue, now a key element of money management was access to IT and we looked at why it’s just about essential to be able to get online, especially with Universal Credit coming on-stream, digital by default. Of course, they collectively had the best ideas for adjusting to large-scale budget changes but it was a great forum for challenging misapprehensions and the occasional misjudgement.
I’ve said it time and again (not least in I’m Ready, the book I wrote on finding work) but learning from your peers is the fastest shortcut to improving yourself, second only to learning from your mistakes. Let’s face it, it’s our friends we look to to put us straight in most walks of life, but in a structured training environment within respectful boundaries when someone in the same position says “What are you doing spending over a hundred quid on Sky?”, you take note. You might not want to hear some editor from a personal finance magazine stood at the front of the room saying that but you’ll take it from a friend or neighbour. Where I come in is with some suggestions of alternatives to premium-priced satellite TV.
The course continued into more familiar FinCap territory on days two and three, which I was also amazed to hear maintained a 100 per cent retention of trainees. A money advice agency delivered a budgeting workshop, taking people through their income and expenditure. An employment service provided help on thinking about work and starting on the road towards it, again taking advantage of the new realities the claimants were living with, on less from benefits. (Whatever we think about the impact of caps on most families affected, it’s worth noting that of the 900 households affected in Bristol around 200 had sidestepped the cuts and signed off, almost certainly by finding work instead.)
Feedback on the course was very positive and it’s a template for similar activity around the country. For our part, the Social Publishing Project has developed a money management course along similar lines. With welfare reforms continuing to bite, it could be just what the doctor ordered – quite literally, if you read our special report in January or the Spring edition of Quids in! magazine on the links between ill-health and money worries. The government won’t fund them (see this month’s QIPN special report on money management training) but such courses could catch people when hit by welfare caps, Universal Credit or sanctions – that moment of crisis when it’s time for a reality check and a serious review of options.
For further info on SPP money management courses, contact firstname.lastname@example.org