“There’s a perfect storm brewing,” Jeff Mitchell, chief executive of Clean Slate, warned. In May, 4 million people in the UK had already fallen behind by at least one bill payment and the situation is primed to worsen in the coming months. This is why now, more than ever, a money health check is so important.
Jeff told The Twenty Percent that “the public health message has been fine around the virus. But actually, in terms of money, the idea of digging in and worrying about things later is an absolute disaster waiting to happen.”
What’s Clean Slate?
This is where Clean Slate and it’s daughter company Quids In London, aims to help. Founded in 2006 by Jeff, Clean Slate’s first aim was to help people on the ‘reject list’ to get work and to level the playing field in terms of employment.
Through this vital work, Jeff began to attend a Financial Inclusion Forum, where the topic of high interest lenders (think Wonga) was raised. This sparked the idea for Quids In, a money guidance magazine that warns financially vulnerable individuals about the dangers of such schemes.
This was in 2008, which may ring a bell due to a centre Global Financial Crisis. As a result, Quids In quickly developed into an all-round money guidance publication, offering advice on ways to make ends meet, how to cope with the recession and austerity and how to manage Universal Credit.
This magazine was first sold to social housing landlords and distributed among tenants, now to around 25,000 households. This still happens, but there is also an online version anyone can access.
There is simply not enough advice and support available for those on low incomes. Additionally, the lack of financial education, means many are leaving school with no proper idea of how to manage their money and avoid dangerous schemes and excessive debt.
The Money and Pensions Service (MAPS) is a great resource, but, if anything, has too much information. While it has advice on benefits and debt relief, it also contains a lot of information about ISAs and saving accounts.
Both of these segments are very important and need to be addressed, but Jeff fears “it alienates both groups of people” as neither sees the information as fully relevant to them.
This is partly why Quids In employs some of the people it has helped as staff. Complementing the existing staff, there are five peer workers who are still on benefits and have struggled with finding work. “They speak the right language,” Jeff explained. “People find it easier to speak to people like them”.
This also has the added benefit of helping the peer workers gain confidence and transition into more permanent employment.
The company has three simple aims, which are all intertwined. They are to help people:
- Manage their money better
This is done in really simple language, breaking down the issues into easy to follow steps. They try not to use long paragraphs and complex language, as many of their target audience have English as a second language and struggle to understand traditional advice.
The idea is to encourage people to use tools that are already available, like a benefits checker, to make sure they are managing their money in the most effective way possible.
The use celebrities, like Joe Wicks, and other hooks to engage readers and encourage them to read. “We’re in a time where we reject experts and institutions and authorities. Instead we want life hacks,” Jeff explained.
Using engaging and clickbait style articles may sound like a tabloid newspaper, but is actually very important for conveying their message. They could write incredibly helpful information, but if no one read it, it would be worthless.
- Find work
Finding work is so important for escaping the poverty cycle, but can become really difficult after long periods of unemployment. Clean Slate aims to guide individuals through the process and help them find suitable work for their personal circumstances.
- Get online
It’s really difficult to cope in the modern world if you’re not online now and it’s a myth that it’s just older people who aren’t online. “It’s a whole range of people,” said Jeff.
Having strong IT skills and access to a smartphone or computer can improve your life in so many ways and is almost an essential in modern life.
Being online helps people apply for more jobs and access support more easily, so really is a vital skill to have.
Money Health Check
This is such an important tool that the company is offering incentives to encourage people to fill it in. They’re currently offering a £10 shopping voucher to residents in Newham, Southwark, Hackney and Tower Hamlets (all London boroughs) if they complete the money health check.
If you don’t see it as an incentive, then we’re probably not talking to you, Jeff explained. “It goes a long way for a lot of the people we’re talking to.”
The money health check is designed for people on low incomes who are struggling financially but it can benefit everyone. Many people on higher incomes have significant debts or poor money management skills that can leave them financially insecure.
Remember, everyone is only one crisis away from poverty.
The money health check offers a list of recommendations at the end. If you go into a centre or complete the check on the phone, Quids In staff or volunteers will talk you through your options and guide you through some of the changes you should implement.
At the start of lockdown it was very quiet. The phone lines weren’t ringing as predicted and people weren’t reaching out. Jeff believes this was due to an issue with priority setting. When faced with a potentially deadly virus, paying rent or making bill payments suddenly didn’t seem so important.
However, with money issues “the longer they’re left, the harder it is to organise and sort them.” This in turn impacts individuals’ mental health, making finding and retaining employment even harder. “It’s very easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle.
“But the reverse is also true, taking those simple steps will encourage and motivate people to then move on to the slightly harder problems they may have,” Jeff highlighted.
Luckily, people are now starting to come forward and are beginning to take control again, which Jeff hopes will continue into the autumn and winter.
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