Dr Christopher Harker
“Community work is never easy, but it is worth it” said one member of the Money Advice and Education (Money A+E) steering group at their meeting on Wednesday 6th May 2020. I can see other Zoom participants nodding their heads. After the meeting, I remember this sentence vividly, because it points to the work that is needed to reshape societies across the world. This work will not be easy, but it will be worth it. It will not just be about responding to pandemic diseases, but other ‘diseases’ like inequality, mass displacement, democratic deficits and climate crisis. And there is much we can, and must learn from community groups who are the real experts in supporting people as they seek to build better lives.
Money A+E is one such group. They are based in the London borough of Newham, where Covid 19 death rates have been higher than anywhere else in Britain’s capital. Throughout the crisis, they have not only continued to provide money advice and training to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and disadvantaged communities, but also expanded their work to directly support those most in need. Given the ways in which Covid 19 has disproportionately killed black people in particular, their staff have intimate knowledge of the devastating impact this virus is having on some of Britain’s most disadvantaged communities. An independent public inquiry into deaths from Covid-19 among people from ethnic minority backgrounds will illuminate the context in which Money A+E operates. It doesn’t require much foresight to see that the predicted deepest recession on record will impact the communities Money A+E works in and with most heavily.
And yet, despite this gloomy picture, the mood at the steering group was not sober. Members made reference to the loss of loved ones, the anxiety created by financial difficulties and the shock at how vulnerable some people were, particularly migrant communities. But they also talked about the value of love and care, the excitement at seeing younger generations supporting older ones, and the hope that people were becoming more mindful and less individualistic. Many described these things as more important than money. And in doing so, they highlight how community groups already understand that inclusive prosperity is about more than monetary wealth. It is precisely this expertise that we need to support and expand if we are to achieve genuine societal transformation. Money A+E teaches us that the present situation might be difficult, but communities already possess crucial resources, such as care, solidarity and kindness. On their own these are not enough. But when supported by a financial system that recognises their importance, these practices will help people live genuinely valued lives in societies where flourishing is inclusive.
The IGP has been working with Money A+E for over a year now to understand the impact their community-based approach to money and finance has on creating inclusive prosperity for some of London’s most marginalised communities. Money A+E ‘s work offers one among many solutions to the question of how we finance the lives we want.
Many other alternatives were brought together as part of the Financing Prosperity Network e-conference in 2018, and we have included short summary videos of these ideas below. Be sure to look out for our forthcoming book about escape routes from debt too.
Institutions shape the way debt is sold, consumed and collected. How might changing the institutions that deal with debt, and how they work, address problems associated with debt?
When people take on debt, they often draw on resources and people from other times and spaces. What do we learn about debt, and creating better alternatives, when we pay attention to the ways in which debt is distributed?
Problematic debts often have their roots in the global financial systems and states’ policies. How are citizens holding states and financial institutions accountable and developing alternative ways of financing liveable lives?
Problems of debt often require immediate solutions. But they also require a broader rethinking of how societies organise economic and social life. What other areas of policy and practice might be used to foster more prosperous – and less indebted – societies.
Many debts are legal contracts, which intersect state policies around welfare provision. What kinds of legal challenges and attempts to change the law will be most effective for reforming and reshaping existing debt economies?
People with large debts often struggle to navigate the legal and state systems that enforce repayment. What sorts of advice might be given to such people, and how else can we help people to cope?
Image credit: Mike Erskine, Unsplash (edited)
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