Finance & Debt

Credit Union Awareness Month

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By Beck Golubows, South Manchester Credit Union
Sound Pound logo for GM Poverty Action
This October, the eight community credit unions of Greater Manchester, collectively known as Sound Pound, will be launching our first-ever Credit Union Awareness Month; getting people talking about one of the finance industry’s best-kept secrets.

Credit unions are financial institutions that are owned and controlled by our members; like community banks, aiming to bring financial inclusion back to the city region. We build the wealth of local people by providing low-interest loans and convenient savings accounts with a community-first ethos.

In Greater Manchester, there are 65,000 credit union members, some borrowing to afford their dream car, some setting up businesses, some saving for retirement, and some on low income who use credit unions services to pay for vital energy and food. In 2020, borrowers from the Sound Pound credit unions saved £13m in interest and charges, making them better off than they would have otherwise been. The vast majority of those who borrowed also spent their money locally, creating a financially resilient eco-system by driving the local economy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered people’s lives. For some, their bank balance has been hit hard due to reduced pay or redundancy. Credit unions have stood by those experiencing financial hardship, offering a friendly and human approach to provide financial help as well as referring people for additional support. Others have had time to focus on personal ventures and started something new for themselves. Credit unions have backed entrepreneurial opportunities and given them a fresh career path.

Throughout the pandemic, so much changed. People came together for support bringing positive energy. Sound Pound’s credit unions are determined to continue with this energy whilst building back fairer and giving more people in our communities better life chances through safe and honest lending, fair rates of interest and dedicated time to listen and understand their current circumstances.

Whilst the country focuses on levelling up, our key messages need to be amplified. In this spirit, our #HowsYourBalance challenge will be launched as part of Credit Union Awareness Month this October.HowsYourBalance for GM Poverty Action

The campaign challenges people to balance something on their body, take a picture and post it on social media – nominating three friends to do the same along with the hashtags #HowsYourBalance and #CreditUnionAwareness.  This has a fun double meaning; whilst asking you to balance something on your body, #HowsYourBalance also asks people to reflect on the state of their finances.

If you’d like to join in the fun, why not start it off yourself? Get the funniest, most challenging object you can find, balance it your body and take a picture, then post it on social media including the hashtags and challenging three friends to do the same. Alternatively, any time soon you could receive your nomination and get to show off your skills.

The Sound Pound credit unions will also be very active on social media over the month, sharing facts and statements about credit unions that you may have previously not known. Watch out for these and share them, you could be helping someone in need of credit find the cheapest and most sustainable option.

Happy balancing Greater Manchester!

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Employer views on UC

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New research project seeks employer views and experiences of Universal Credit
By Katy Jones, Research Fellow in the Centre for Decent Work and Productivity at Manchester Metropolitan University

Research and policymaking has largely ignored employer views and experiences of Universal Credit – the main benefit for people who are out of work or on a low income. As job creators, and those ultimately in control of the job opportunities claimants are seeking to access, this is an important gap. Exploring how employers engage (or could engage) with local employment services like Jobcentre Plus is also critical given ongoing recruitment struggles in key industries.

In a similar way to legacy benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit requires claimants who are out of work to engage in job seeking and other work-related activities. It is underpinned by the UK’s long-established ‘Work First’ approach, which requires claimants to make a high number of applications and move into work as quickly as possible.

Critically though, Universal Credit is also an in-work benefit (it replaces working tax credits), and in an unprecedented move, may involve the introduction of “in-work conditionality” (IWC). This may mean that claimants who are in work must continue to engage with the Jobcentre and demonstrate ongoing efforts to increase their earnings (e.g. through increasing their hours/earnings in their current place of work or by taking up additional or alternative jobs elsewhere).

Employers and the opportunities they offer are critical to the outcomes of such policies, and associated programmes like Kickstart and Restart. And while job-search expectations are applied to claimants, Universal Credit may have implications for the way employers recruit, manage, retain and progress their staff. Do employers see agencies like Jobcentre Plus as a recruitment channel? Does the Work First approach help them to get the right candidates?

Now more than ever, we need to understand how our welfare system interacts with the labour market. More than 6 million people now claim Universal Credit, and areas like Greater Manchester have relatively high numbers of Universal Credit claimants compared to other Districts (326,978 in April 2021).

As the UK faces high unemployment, and new programmes such as Kickstart and Restart are introduced, it is critical that we consult with employers about how policies impact on their businesses and their important role in helping people to enter and progress in work .

A new research project will do just that. Led by Dr Katy Jones from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), this important project will gather employer views of UC, how expectations placed on UC claimants may (or may not) impact on businesses, and how employment agencies like Jobcentre Plus can best work with the business community.

How can employers get involved?

The research team are currently looking for Employers (anyone with influence/power over recruitment and line management including Owner-Managers, HR managers, line managers) operating in Greater Manchester who are willing to take part in a confidential interview (face-to-face or online).

Employers from any sector can take part but they are particularly interested in speaking to employers in Retail, Hospitality and Social Care. Employers do not need to know anything about Universal Credit to take part – the researchers are interested in their insights and expertise as business owners and managers.

If you are interested in taking part, can help us to connect with local business communities, or simply want to find out more about the project, please contact Dr Katy Jones or Dr Calum Carson You can also follow the project on Twitter @UC_Employers

All responses will help towards a research paper which will be submitted to the government alongside suggestions for changes to the Universal Credit system.

 

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Universal Credit cut – Insult to injury

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NICs increase ‘adds insult to injury’ for families facing devastating cut to Universal Credit

New JRF analysis estimates that around 2 million families on low incomes who receive Universal Credit (UC) or Working Tax Credit (WTC) will pay on average around an extra £100 per year in National Insurance contributions under the Government’s proposed changes.

Peter Matejic, Deputy Director of Evidence & Impact at JRF said: “With inflation rising, the cost of living going up and an energy price rise coming in October, many struggling families are wondering how on earth they will be expected to make ends meet from next month.  Any MP who is concerned about families on low incomes must urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to reverse this damaging cut to Universal Credit, which will have an immediate and devastating impact on their constituents’ living standards in just a few weeks time.”

Only three weeks ago 100 organisations across the UK, including GMPA, joined together in an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government not to go ahead with the planned £20-a-week cut to UC and WTC Credit.

JRF’s latest analysis shows the number and proportion of families who will be impacted by the cut to UC and WTC in each UK parliamentary constituency. See below the figures for the GM constituencies:

JRF Constituency data for GM Poverty Action

 

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Resolution Foundation report

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Number of young people receiving benefits increases

A new report by the Resolution Foundation

Resolution Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe proportion of young adults claiming income-related benefits increased from 9% to 15% during the Covid crisis – a larger increase than any other age group. This was part of the overall increase in claimants, highlighting the vital role that Universal Credit – including the £20 ‘uplift’ – has played during the pandemic, according to new research published by the Resolution Foundation in late August.

Nuffield Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe report – Age-old or new-age – funded by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the shifts in the number of people receiving benefits during the crisis, and how this varied for different age-groups. There was a staggering surge in UC claims, with 1.3 million more families receiving the benefit in the first three months of the pandemic and a further 600,000 since then.

As a result, the total number of families receiving a working-age income-related benefit rose by 1.4 million in the space of 12 months to 7.5 million in February 2021 and reversed a long decline in benefit receipt.

In 2005, 72% of people lived in households that received at least one benefit, a figure that had fallen to 62% by the eve of the crisis. This fall was driven by the removal of Child Benefit from higher earners, the increase in the State Pension Age, and rising employment and earnings causing some families to no longer be entitled to welfare support. The Resolution Foundation estimates this figure has been partly reversed, with 64% of people now receiving benefit income in their household.

Focusing on which groups have been the main recipients of the pandemic benefit surge, the report notes that young adults (16 – 24 year olds) – the age group least likely to receive benefits – have seen the sharpest increases in support. The proportion of 25-29 has also increased sharply – from 17% to 24% per cent – while the share of 30 – 59 year olds claiming benefits has increased more slowly, from 22% to 27% per cent.

The Foundation believes that young adults have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis and that it would have been far worse if not for the furlough scheme and while the number of families receiving benefits had dropped by some 130,000 by May of this year, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects the number of families receiving benefits to remain higher for the next two years than it was before the pandemic.

There has also been a potentially worrying rise in the number of older UC claimants, with 34,000 more people aged over 50 on the benefit since February 2021.

With record numbers of people now receiving UC, future decisions such as the future of the £20 a week uplift*, will have a bigger impact on family living standards across the country than ever before.

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “This research highlights the relevance of the benefits system to people of all ages, as well as the vital role it has played in supporting people and families through the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. However, it also shows that the level of support varies significantly across different age groups, and those differences should be taken into account by government when considering any changes to benefit rates.”

 

For information about how many people in the city region are in receipt of out-of-work benefits or in receipt of in-work support please go to the GMPA Poverty Monitor Social Security data.

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Community Savers

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Community Savers is a network of women-led savings groups which engage in regular peer support: sharing ideas, experiences and strategies for reducing poverty in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. They have been learning from the approaches of a women-led movement called Shack/Slum Dwellers International since 2016 and work in alliance with Community-Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS).

Women have always played a critical role in community action in the UK (and across the world). Since the onset of austerity policies in 2010 which has reduced spending on public services and social support, women have been at the forefront of the battle to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society. And now COVID.

The gendered nature of community action usually goes unrecognised. It is almost always unpaid, and the cost of activities are frequently shouldered by communities themselves.

This presents the Community Savers-CLASS alliance with a significant challenge. The Community Savers approach amplifies and builds upon the expertise and resilience of grassroots women leaders to make change happen. But this creates additional demands on women who are already shouldering many of their own community, family and work pressures.

Yet, being in the network also builds resilience and enables effective strategies to spread. Throughout the pandemic, savings group leaders have been able to fall back on their network for moral support, ideas and information, or just to offload when things get tough. Crisis resources have been shared between groups. Before COVID, groups were travelling to learn from each other’s projects and approaches, where a savings group set up in one place, a food project would replicate in another.

Women in the lead

Building on 30 years of SDI’s learning by doing, the Community Savers-CLASS alliance are attempting to build a genuinely alternative form of community-professional partnership.

Their work together is led by, for, and with grassroots women but protecting that principle requires constant dialogue, reflection and renegotiation. Where to find the time and space to have these discussions without needing to rush to school pick up, hospital appointments, food collections, or tonight’s campaign meeting?

In September, Community Savers & CLASS will be going on a 2-day rural retreat. They would like to enable four amazing women from each of the affiliate groups to attend but need to raise an additional £1,000.

If you can, consider helping them to reach their target by making a donation. You can also email for further
information.

 

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#KeepTheLifeline

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The National #KeepTheLifeline Campaign

As you are no doubt aware, in October the Government plans to cut the £20 a week (£1040 a year) uplift paid to those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit introduced at the beginning of the pandemic. For years before the pandemic, cuts and freezes to social security had already left many families living with constant financial insecurity.

This cut will have a huge impact on six million families and will be the biggest cut to the basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began, more than 70 years ago.

Many charities, think tanks and leading organisations plus six former Conservative work and pensions secretaries   are urging the Government not to go ahead with this cut, which will further weaken social security support, cause severe hardship for families who are already struggling to stay afloat and generate a surge of people being pulled into poverty.

There is also an ongoing call on the Government not to discriminate against families receiving ‘legacy benefits’ such as Employment Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support by not giving them this uplift.

Since signing a joint open letter to the Chancellor last September, an ongoing campaign led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), together with many organisations including GMPA, determined to prevent this cut, has been active.  If this is something you feel strongly about, there are many ways to get involved.

JRF have produced some very helpful tools.  You can read more about the campaign here and why this lifeline must be kept. 

•  There is a web page with information for Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit claimants including a template for writing to their MP.  A separate web page with information for legacy benefit claimants, again with a template for writing to their MP and a web page for supporters with write to MP instructions.

•  A ‘Campaign guide’ – for small organisations or leaders who are keen to get involved. It has details of the campaign, links to assets, write to MP guidance and suggested tweets.

•  A ‘Stakeholder toolkit’ – for larger organisations with networks.

What you can do to help

If you do one thing, write to your MP and/or request a meeting (see the helpful guide from the End Child Poverty Coalition for how to prepare). It is so important that MPs hear from as many different voices as possible about the impact of the cut – from charities, local leaders, claimants and supporters. We need them to know that this is a huge risk for families and communities, and for them politically.

Tell your network about the cut

Sadly, despite the severe impact this cut is likely to have on families, the complexity of the system and lack of communications means that too few recipients are aware it is due to happen and that it will affect them.

Raise the issue on your social media

Use the #KeepTheLifeline and help to keep this issue trending.

There are plans for a national day of action on August 17th.  Keep an eye on social media #KeepTheLifeline for more information. 

 

 

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BEESMART

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Manchester Credit Union introduces BEESMART

Manchester Credit Union (MCU) has recently become a Principal Partner of GMPA and we look forward to supporting them and the fantastic work they do in Greater Manchester to tackle the root causes of poverty. We believe everyone is entitled to a secure job which pays enough to live on, without constantly struggling to make ends meet.

As a business that shares similar values as GMPA, we would like to share some information about what we do and in particular, tell you about a free benefit that local employers can offer to their staff to improve their financial wellbeing.

MCU, a financial co-operative, started life in 1991 in Beswick as part of the council’s anti-poverty strategy, and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary of providing savings and affordable loans to people who live and work in Manchester, Bury, Rochdale, Tameside, Trafford, Stockport and the High Peak. We have grown our membership to over 32,000 and so far this year have opened 1200 saving accounts and provided over 11,000 affordable loans to people in the local community who might struggle to access a small loan elsewhere without paying extortionate rates of interest.

Over the last 12 months, we have helped hundreds of members who have been affected by the pandemic by offering payment holidays, reducing payments on loans and most importantly, keeping in touch with members so they know we are there for them to help them through this difficult time. Members who need to borrow from us are encouraged to save a small amount each week whilst they are repaying their loan, which helps them become more financially resilient for the future.

There can be no doubt that financial worries are one of the main causes of stress and it is becoming increasingly evident that this can translate into how an individual performs at work.  The impact of poor financial health can lead to a lack of productivity and absence from work. So how can responsible employers who care for their staff help them to build financial resilience?

Recent research by the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) has found that 55% of employees would like a savings and borrowings solution provided by their employer.  Sadly, many businesses do not offer such a solution but we can help as we provide a payroll service for local businesses called BEESMART.

This is a free benefit with no risk to employers. Staff are encouraged to save regularly by having a sum of money deducted from their payroll. We will place the funds into a savings account on their behalf and also provide free life savings insurance on those savings. Saving directly through your pay is proven to make it easier to save regularly and having something put by for a rainy day can reduce financial stress which will in turn have a positive impact on the wellbeing of employees.

Staff will soon see their savings grow and have the comfort of knowing that their savings are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.  An additional benefit is that once employees are saving, we can then provide affordable loans which can often be more competitive than High Street Banks and payday or doorstep lenders.

BEESMART is a simple, safe and flexible scheme which will help people get back into a savings habit and there is no cost to an employer to set it up. We would encourage any local employer to contact us so we can help you support your staff.

We are on a mission to help our local community through the services we offer, and make people better off.

For further information on the services offered by Manchester Credit Union, please visit our website

If you are an employer in the Greater Manchester area and are interested in the BEESMART payroll service, please visit this webpage or email for further information on how to set it up free of charge.

Manchester Credit Union logo for GM Poverty Action

 

 

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Managing finances research

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How do those aged 30-50 in zero-hour, self-employed, or temporary work manage their finances?

Researchers at the University of Manchester are looking at how individuals have fared financially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and what impact they feel the pandemic has had on their finances.

They would like to interview individuals currently working within gig-economy roles – on self-employed, zero-hour, or temporary contracts.  Ideally, they are seeking people who work in social care, hospitality, delivery, health and fitness, or office administration (although respondents from other sectors would be welcomed). In particular, the researchers would like to speak to individuals aged 30-50 who are earning roughly between £12,000-£20,000 per annum and living in Greater Manchester or the surrounding area.

The research team is especially interested in understanding how people in this kind of work manage their financial situation in the absence of benefits from an employer such as full-time hours, sick pay, maternity pay, and pensions.  They believe that working in a more precarious situation places an increased level of personal or financial risk on people that in other kinds of work would be shared with an employer, and they want to know how people feel about that.

The research team are working in collaboration with NEST pension scheme.  They want to help contribute to raising awareness to the inequality’s workers on these contracts face, and what this means for them in terms of financing their later lives.

You can find out more information about the research here. To take part in an online Zoom or Skype interview please contact Kris Fuzi

 

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Turn2us

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Turn2us publish an Impact Report and launch a new Benefits Calculator

Turn2us, have released their first Impact report, which has a particular focus on the charity’s response to Covid.

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has had profound effects on the UK economy and caused many people to experience severe disruption to their employment and personal finances.

Since March 2020, 11.4 million people have been placed on furlough, 2.2 million more people are now claiming Universal Credit due to the pandemic and 693,000 people have been made redundant.

While certain groups have seen their income and livelihoods particularly affected – including women, single parents, younger people, and people from minoritised backgrounds – the effects of the pandemic have been felt throughout UK society.

This Impact Report tries to highlight this inequality while demonstrating the impact we’ve had on people’s lives.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with the External Affairs team  or other members of the charity’s team if you have any questions, or would like to talk about how we might work together.

Also, after two years of work with users and stakeholders from across the sector, Turn2us have launched a new Benefits Calculator in order to help millions of people every year to understand the welfare benefits they may be able to claim.

Turn to us 7 million graphic for GM poverty Action
To support the launch of our new Benefits Calculator, Turn2us undertook new research which showed that:

•    More than 7.1 million people are missing out on £15.1bn of benefits
•    45% of people have never checked to see if they can claim benefits

More information about Turn2us

 

 

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Covid-19: Half a million miss out on UC

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Confusion and stigma: half a million people missing out on Universal Credit as COVID-19 hit

A Welfare at a (Social) Distance study, funded by the Health Foundation, highlights those who were eligible for Universal Credit at the start of COVID-19 but did not claim it – despite often having sharp falls in income and struggling financially.

The report by the University of Salford, working in collaboration with the University of Kent and the University of Leeds, the LSE and Deakin University, Australia, estimates that around half a million (an estimated 430,000-560,000) people who were eligible for Universal Credit during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic did not claim it.

There were many (an estimated 280,000-390,000) people who wrongly thought they were ineligible for Universal Credit. Some people had actively considered applying for benefits and decided they weren’t eligible, but mostly people just had a ‘sense’ that they were not eligible for anything.

There were also a quarter of a million (220,000) people who thought they were eligible for Universal Credit but didn’t want to claim it with 59% stating the perceived hassle of applying and the challenge of figuring out if they were eligible the contributing factor to not applying. A further sizeable minority (27%) didn’t claim Universal Credit because of benefits stigma.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, income had fallen amongst a majority of those not accessing Universal Credit and to make ends meet, people relied on savings, friends and family or borrowed from banks.

Nearly half reported severe financial strain – either falling behind on housing costs, not keeping up with bills and debts, or not being able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables daily. A further two-thirds were unable to deal with an unexpected expense like replacing a fridge and more than one-in-six had skipped a meal in the previous two weeks because they could not afford to eat (equivalent to 80,000 people).

Those not taking-up Universal Credit also had worse mental health on average than the general public.

Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, lead author of the report and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent, said: “There are probably about half a million people who are entitled to Universal Credit but do not claim it. These people are largely invisible because the Department for Work and Pensions no longer estimates how many people are affected – something we recommend that they start doing for UC, just as they used to do for other benefits”.

“Some of these people say they don’t need benefits – but others don’t claim because they don’t understand that they are eligible, hope that things will get better soon, or are put off by the perceived ‘hassle’ or stigma of claiming. It is therefore no surprise that many of these people are experiencing poor mental health and financial strain, some of them severely”.

Professor Lisa Scullion on Welfare for GM Poverty Action

Professor Lisa Scullion

Professor Lisa Scullion, Co-Director of SHUSU at the University of Salford and project lead, said: “Overall, the benefits system has responded well to the unprecedented demands which a year of different lockdown measures has brought. However, historic weaknesses remain.

“It is clear that there are relatively high levels of need amongst people who do not claim the benefits that they are entitled to. The Department for Work and Pensions should publish its own ‘benefit take-up strategy’ for the UK as a whole, aiming to ensure that people can claim the rights benefits as quickly as possible, correct misperceptions about the benefits system, and attempt to address benefits stigma”.

Hardeep Aiden, Research Manager at the Health Foundation, adds: “The £20 uplift and temporary removal of sanctions have gone someway to improve the experience of many claimants during the pandemic, but more targeted support and an easing of the conditions for claiming Universal Credit must be implemented.

“This would reduce the stress and anxiety around claiming, helping to improve both mental and physical health among this financially vulnerable group and, crucially, would encourage those who need to claim to do so”.

The full report is available here

 

i3oz9sCovid-19: Half a million miss out on UC
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