What's the best way to help vulnerable people earn money?

Monday, 17 March 2014 - 2:50pm

Most of us find dealing with money at best a chore and at worst positively scary. However, research  has highlighted a change in behaviour and positive impact on people in social housing who experienced some financial skills training. 

The BBC Lab UK's Big Money Test in 2013 showed that there is far more to managing your money than financial know-how. It concluded that while financial knowledge is important, our emotions play a big part in how well we manage our money. Money is linked to how we feel about power, security, love and freedom; and the test identified impulse buying as being a real challenge to financial security. Financial skills also involve a certain level of maths ability, and this can just add to feelings of uncertainty about teaching this subject - never mind learning about it! This is undoubtedly why many people steer clear of working in this area.

The best time to engage people in developing their financial skills

So, we know that many support workers, teachers and trainers - as well as the participants on financial literacy programmes - have mixed feelings about money and finances. Indeed, many of us do not want to think about money until something significant happens in our lives. Shaun Mundy, Senior Vice President of the Financial Literacy Group, researched the topic and found that people are most interested in developing financial capability skills only when something changes in their lives. For example: When starting or losing a job, starting a course at college, dealing with a debt or becoming a parent.

These can be described as ‘significant moments’. One such significant moment in many peoples’ lives is the proposed introduction of Universal Credit. Eventually, this will change the way benefits are paid, presenting at least two challenges: First, people will be paid monthly instead of weekly; and second, they will be paid through a bank account rather than in cash through the Post Office. In response to this significant moment, The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has worked with Homeless Link and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) to develop a Talking about Money tool. As the name suggests, this tool is designed to encourage advisers and their clients to start talking more openly about money. It asks a series of questions and invites the client to rate their own levels of confidence and competence. This enables clients to address these challenges and empowers them to make more informed choices and decisions in relation to their circumstances.

How can we help adults with serious numeracy issues to manage money?

There is obviously no quick fix for this, but at Learning Unlimited we have developed a range of online resources that clients and support workers can use with their clients. The online activities, games and videos are aimed at people who may not have strong numeracy skills, but who want to develop their financial skills.

The resources at www.learningmathsonline.ac.uk support adults to develop calculating skills around ‘money coming in’ and ‘money going out’. One example is showing people how to budget over the course of a month, rather than for just a week or two. The activity requires people to plan for a month by allocating money to four ‘pots’: Rent, bills, groceries and travel. There is also a 'rainy day' pot for what is left over.

There are hints and tips, such as how to plan expenditure for a month over five weeks, rather than four (to make sure you do not run out of money - as most months have more than four weeks in them!). There is also a check function that allows for variable amounts to be put into the 'groceries/travel' and 'rainy day' pots, but always requires the rent to be paid. To add a sense of authenticity to this activity, we filmed 'vox pops' of people from Homeless link and the CAB giving tips on budgeting. The ‘Everyday Maths’ section of the site also has lots of exercises about keeping appointments and working out time - as well as looking at food labels. The resources do not solve all financial problems, but do give people opportunities to practise some skills in relation to employment and benefits.

New initiatives in this sector

As part of a new initiative funded by The Insolvency Service (BIS), we are supporting organisations working with vulnerable people to develop some financial literacy programmes linked to the new unit qualifications. However, some of the project’s early findings indicate that, unsurprisingly, it is not easy to develop new programmes with centres already running on limited resources. Many simply don’t have staff with the requisite skills to support financial capability. In addition to this, Universal Credit - a main motivator for initiating this pilot - has had its timetable for introduction changed, creating uncertainty around the need for skills development.

Despite these challenges, it is worth making the effort. The recent Quids In study (undertaken by the CAB and Santander) highlighted a change in behaviour and positive impact on people in social housing who experienced some financial skills training.

At this Universal Credit ‘significant moment’, there is considerable interest in developing people’s financial skills - and there are some very good tools out there to help with the learning needed. However, there will need to be enough investment to upskill the people involved, in order to make sure we provide the claimants and support workers with the skills they require to successfully access the new benefits.

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Beth Kelly

Chief Executive - Learning Unlimited

Beth is a numeracy and education and workplace learning specialist.