Agenda item

Fair Debt Summit - Supporting Vulnerable Residents


The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it outlined the work undertaken in September 2018 on the Fair Debt Summit, which had been cross-party and cross-directorate. She stated that the Summit had considered how best to support residents, young people and schools with financial literacy, and a pilot scheme had been developed by Thurrock Adult Community College. She added that the work had now been embedded into Thurrock’s Inspire programme, which worked with both young people not in education, employment or training and vulnerable adults. The Assistant Director Education and Skills mentioned that work on the project had been paused due to COVID and school closures, but was now being re-energised, and the team would be going back into schools to deliver the programme. She stated that the team would also be using the programme as a challenge for Thurrock’s Next Top Boss, and felt it was particularly important to help young people understand financial resilience post-COVID.

Councillor Carter questioned if the programme would be available to the most vulnerable young people in Thurrock, including those in foster care. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that the scheme would be run for all young people to take part in, which included those Looked After Children. She added that care leavers also had separate money management schemes that had been working well. She explained that all young people could find it easy to get into debt, and the programme would help these people understand the wider financial economy and the skills they would need to remain debt free. She highlighted the appendix to the report that showed they had received positive feedback from schools that had run the pilot scheme, and this feedback would be developed into a programme by Thurrock Adult Community College.

Councillor Muldowney questioned if the scheme was being targeted correctly. She stated that the pilot scheme had been run for year 9 and 10 students, who would not necessarily have experience with debt at that age. She felt that although the current scheme would be a good preventative measure, it would be beneficial to target the scheme at older people who were already in debt, and would therefore reduce child poverty rates in the borough. The Chair also queried if the scheme was targeted correctly, and felt it should be targeted at younger children to enable them to understand money at an earlier age. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that although the scheme did target young people, it also targeted vulnerable groups through Inspire, such as young people not in education, employment or training, some of whom were already in debt. She added that the scheme would also work with vulnerable families, and could be adapted to work for adults on a wider scale. She stated that the work in schools was preventative and would help to embed the key principles of debt management from a young age. She summarised and stated that she would consider all feedback from the Committee, including the targeted age ranges.

Councillor Snell thanked the team and the director for their hard work on the report. He felt that early targeted intervention would help young people with their financial preparedness and stop people entering into debt later in life. He queried if the scheme would teach young people about the use of IT and money, as the UK moved toward a cashless society. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that the scheme would look into online banking and IT, as it became more easy to spend money online and on mobile phones. She explained that the Adult Community College had recognised the changes in money management and would work to develop this into the programme.

Councillor Hebb echoed comments made by Councillor Snell and thanked the team for their hard work. He stated that the paper had been designed to share the work so far and get more ideas from Members. He felt that the scheme would help to promote financial independence and would build financial capability at an early age, to ensure young people avoided debt. He stated that during the summit young people had seemed interested in the programme and had asked a variety of questions from mortgages to interest rates. He added that the scheme would also look at financial technology, as it became easier to spend money and be approved for loans online.

Councillor Kent welcomed the idea of a Fair Debt Summit and financial inclusion education. He felt that this would be a long term programme, the benefits of which would not be seen until the young people currently at school reached adulthood. He added that some banks offered financial advice and activities in schools currently, and asked if the Council could link up and utilise some of these services. He echoed the points raised by Councillor Muldowney and felt that adult poverty and debt management also needed to be addressed, particularly as the government’s furlough scheme drew to a close and tax rates increased. He felt that these people needed to be considered as part of the scheme, as they could be at risk from debt or financial mismanagement. Councillor Hebb explained that a report would be coming to the Committee in November which would focus on debt collection by the Council, and had involved the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Councillor Collins felt the report was positive, and asked what other vulnerable groups the scheme would be considering. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that the scheme would focus on those in school; young people not in education, employment or training; and young people on benefits, who would be picked up by the Inspire team. She explained that the scheme would also look into problems associated with online gaming and gambling, which often led people into financial difficulty. She stated that a piece of work could also be undertaken that would focus on money management for those young adults over the age of 25 who were not included in Inspire. The Chair asked if young people and adults with learning difficulties could be included in the scheme. Councillor Collins added that it would be useful if young people leaving for university could also receive a bespoke course regarding money management at university.

Councillor Muldowney stated that one third of young people currently lived in poverty, and asked what could be included in the strategy to help them directly. Councillor Hebb stated that the scheme had been divided into three sections, which included: education; people who could pay debts but refused; and people who could not pay debts but wanted too. He explained that the report coming to the Committee in November would cover compassionate collections, and would go into detail regarding poverty and how to tackle the issue.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Reviewed the approach, and provided any relevant feedback, with a view of supporting a joint working approach between Finance and Education to provide holistic opportunities to address debt management/avoidance in schools.

2. Recommended to Cabinet the continuing support for financial literacy to remain a key focus of the curriculum offer across schools and colleges.

3. Recommended that the debt management activities continue to be delivered across directorates, as well as making use of external agencies/services to support this programme of activity.

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