We all face financial issues at some point in our lives. Few problems however can be so devastating as money gone wrong. It might be falling victim to a clever scam, getting divorced or being made redundant, losing your home, retiring or simply trying to survive on fluctuating income. Many of our neighbours live on the minimum wage (or below) and as the cost of rent and transport rises so many find they are in deepening debt and face recurring financial crises.
Our local councillor Stephanie Cryan takes responsibility for so-called ‘financial inclusion’ as part of her job as a cabinet member for Southwark Council. I caught up with her at Canada Water Library to find out more about what drove her to get involved with these issues. “It’s a universal issue across Southwark,” she explained. “The Council takes seriously our role with the most vulnerable in society and today that often means working to support people who are in work but who still find it a struggle to cope with the rising cost of living. Whilst there are pockets of both wealth and poverty side-by-side throughout SE16, in my ward of Rotherhithe 32% of our children live in poverty. People dip in and out of financial problems but it takes a huge strain on their mental and physical health and we should do what we can to reduce that burden.”
“…we need to reset our moral compass and to recognise that a strong society is one where we support each other…”
So what got you interested in financial inclusion?
“Whilst I was brought up just on the Lambeth side of Kennington, I moved to Rotherhithe over 20 years ago. Back then, it was cheaper than other parts of London and it put me back in touch with my granddad’s history as a stevedore. I started out in life working for Abbey National on the Walworth Road and rose to be bank manager. In those days, it was much more personal and though I moved round the borough – to Camberwell and Peckham – it still felt like I could be involved directly with people. I became a part-time financial advisor before finally being made redundant in 2013. I took a year out to spend more time with my two growing sons Max and Josh but in 2014, the election came around and I was offered a cabinet post with the Labour group at the Council. Now I take responsibility for our Adult Social Care as well as financial inclusion.”
How does the Council boost people’s income?
“We try to tackle the problem from several angles. On the one hand, we have Rightfully Yours that offers free advice to Southwark residents on their entitlement to benefits. It works on an appointment basis alongside the other advice agencies in Southwark such as Advising London and Southwark Citizens Advice Bureaux. The idea is to ensure that people get the full range of benefits so their income is supported whilst other issues such as debt, housing or employment are handled by the main agencies. We are about to pilot a scheme to take benefit advisors from Rightfully Yours into Bermondsey Spa GP Surgery in Old Jamaica Road SE16. We are hoping there to learn how the arrival of Universal Credit can be best handled on the ground, to test and learn if this approach can roll out across the borough.”
“…this will help to encourage saving, promote the benefits of using a bank account and drive more business to our very own credit union….”
“In Southwark, since 2014 we committed to paying the London Living Wage* to every employee and are helping our contractors to make the same commitment. This is borough-wide and reflects the level of low pay in London. The reality is that 21% of people living in London are paid below this basic standard, many of them in retail, catering or wholesale. We want to ensure that working families earn enough to survive with the higher costs of London. In Canada Water, we are going further and have announced that we will require all employers working on the new town centre to pay the London Living Wage, during construction and into the future. It will be the first London Living Wage Zone!”
What are you doing for children?
“We also want to ensure that our children get a good start with money. Alongside free healthy school meals for all primary school children and free access to the Council’s gyms and swimming pools for under 16 year olds, we wanted to help develop good financial habits amongst our kids. So the Council now makes a deposit of £10 in an account with the London Mutual Credit Union (LMCU) for every 11 year old. We hope this will help to encourage saving, promote the benefits of using a bank account and drive more business to our very own credit union. We have helped LMCU to open a branch in Walworth Road to support them to be more accessible to their customers in that area.”
“…People dip in and out of financial problems but it takes a huge strain on their mental and physical health and we should do what we can to reduce that burden…”
Helping people make good financial decisions
“Of course the best people to help when you are in money problems are those around you, the folk in your neighbourhood you trust. The Money Savvy Southwark project is a tremendous five-year effort to train local leaders in simple money advice. They can help with for example prioritising bills, how much pay-day loans will cost and how to save on fuel costs. The partners are aiming to train 250 community champions to help out people in their local area with money management issues. They can also identify scams that target the most vulnerable and report illegal loan sharks. I’m proud to sit on the Board of the project and to see so many people getting to understand the basics about offering advice on money.”
“In our society that seems to be constantly polarising between the well-off and those on low incomes, it’s time to support each other. I recently heard Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury say that we need to reset our moral compass and to recognise that a strong society is one where we support each other. For me, helping people use their money well and make financial choices that promote their family’s well-being is an important part of that moral call.”
Cllr Stephanie Cryan – Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Financial Inclusion
T: 020 7525 0247 E: firstname.lastname@example.org M: 07985 116251
Facebook: stephanie.cryan.1 Twitter: @steviecryan
Cabinet Suite, 160 Tooley Street SE1 2QH
Looking for advice? Download this map of Advice agencies in Southwark
*The voluntary London Living Wage is set each year by the Greater London Authority and allows a family of four to live simply on one full-time income; this year it is £9.40 per hour. It is distinct from the Chancellor’s proposal of a statutory “National Living Wage” of £7.20 per hour that will replace the National Minimum Wage from April 2016.