To be fair, the chair of the employment support meeting backed me up. ‘This is one hundred per cent part of what we need to do if we want to help people access paid work,’ he said. ‘If they’re worried about money, they’re less likely to access and hold down a job. The job might be part of the solution – but only if they know how manage their new income.’
This was back in late 2018 but fast forward to October 2019 and, this time, I was better prepared. That experience opened my eyes to a reluctance that just comes from a lack of confidence in, first, our own ability to manage our money. It can also feel pretty awkward to talk money with someone who has very little finance to talk about.
That earlier stony silence had led to a bid for funding to pilot an advisor training workshop we called ‘Money Talking’. And here were the first 16 guinea pigs eager to learn more.
The workshop opens with us discussing our own collective wisdom on the key issues affecting people we work with, whether in housing need, health services or employment support. It’s amazing how much we know between us – and how differently we think about the priority messages we might want to share. Then we explore the context, the research data collected in the latest Quids in! reader survey and what that means for the most vulnerable and people who have or will move onto Universal Credit; 48% skipping meals, 51% going cold and 68% feeling frightened, anxious or depressed on account of money worries.
The core of the training revolves around a financial resilience toolkit devised by Quids in! in partnership with teams at Clean Slate Training & Employment and the Reach housing support and advice team. Presented online as a 25-question quiz, the Future-Proof Finance Test offers advisors an independent resource to share with clients, tenants or service users. Co-designed with practitioners supporting claimants through the unintended consequences of the roll out of Universal Credit, the toolkit asks the practical questions where a negative response triggers some guidance and a mini-challenge that will better prepare them for any future setbacks. ‘Are you sure you could keep food on the table if your money stopped for a month?’ it asks. ‘Do you open all your post every day?’ ‘Do you know how much is going out?’ ‘Do you have a plan for increasing your income?’
The training works through each question and its corresponding guidance. Attendees get to grips with the rationale: Why someone not opening their post might be a red flag indicating a debt issue or how some people even fear an increase to their income in case it upsets the status quo. It’s not comprehensive but it covers the fundamental pitfalls people can fall into. Participants don’t leave as experts, (indeed, a key message is that financial advice, as a regulated activity, requires signposting), but confident and determined to start the conversation.
Prior to the workshop, attendees say they rated their confidence to talk money as 5.6 out of 10. By the end, it was 7.9.
By the end of 2019, we’d seen 35 advisors on the Money Talking pilot. Content and delivery was generally highly rated and people left with a clear sense of how it could be integrated into their day jobs.
Like the team I met in 2018, not all advisors will feel talking money should fall to them. But by 2024, if the government’s new projections prove right, as many as nine million people could have moved onto Universal Credit across the UK. An estimated one in five claimants have experienced problems during the transition and we haven’t even got onto more complex cases and managed migration yet.
One thing is for sure: Millions of people on low incomes are going to need to be talking money. There won’t be enough specialist advisors to go round, so it’ll fall to the rest of us to come up with something practical to say.