The Welsh Government promoted credit unions with strong advertising campaigns and asked organisations to partner with them, but no such political activity has been as strongly evident in England where membership levels in credit unions are still lower than many other countries.
If we scout around the internet, there are various campaigns happening to promote credit unions and the Archbishop of Canterbury has done much to set up a task group to educate people about responsible credit and savings through the churches.
I speak at many events about credit unions and am always surprised when more than a handful of people in the room have heard of them or know what they are. My findings are that not many know about them, and those who do aren’t really sure what they are or why they should join.
People understand the fact that pay day lending with high interest rates is bad, but don’t really know how or if they can be bothered to help if it doesn’t directly affect them. The government have implemented rules which have brought percentage rates down for pay day lending, but that isn’t the only answer.
Discussions in Parliament in September 2015, “In response to Phil Boswell of the Scottish National Party who asked what support credit unions are receiving from the government, Harriet Baldwin cited the previous government’s call for evidence and pledged, “the government is committed to continuing to support the credit union movement in making financial services more accessible”.
I think I am safe to say that support is inconsistent from government or health organisations and other than an expansion programme through ABCUL which will inevitably take time to follow through, there is little direction or focussed attention aimed through budgets offered to local government or health where the financial inclusion agenda is mainly directed. Research is very clear that mental health and poverty are linked, but if supported properly credit unions can assist with services which may be preventative, not many health boards have had the foresight to recognise the links enough to partner with credit unions.
There must be more we can do as a society to promote the virtues of community credit unions and ask people and organisations to engage with them for either corporate or personal social responsibility. This must start with all government organisations encouraging their own staff to be members of credit unions. Additionally, it would be helpful if government information or advertising campaigns promoted the joining of credit unions.
I personally promote credit unions wherever possible and encourage employers to work with them in partnership. Introducing employees to ethical savings and affordable loans could alleviate financial pressures for them, thus potentially minimising sickness or financial worries for staff.
In a conference on a research paper I did for the Welsh Government about partnering credit unions with health services, the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford reinforced my findings stating that “it is really a virtuous circle, it is the only public policy where everybody wins”
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