Improving financial opportunities for all
Credit has become increasingly central to people’s everyday lives in the UK. Welfare reform and precarious employment contracts have meant that financial insecurity has become more widespread and complex, affecting more households than ever before.
The poorest and most vulnerable in society struggle to access mainstream financial services and are frequently forced to pay more for their banking and credit.
My research examines the differential access that people and communities have to financial services and the profound impacts this has on people’s lives. I’m particularly concerned with the role that debt plays in deepening inequality in deprived neighbourhoods.
My previous work has included studying the impact of bank branch closures on individuals and communities but more recently I have been looking at the issue of debt closer to home.
"I am motivated by a strong belief that universities have a responsibility to use their research and resources to benefit their local community."
Nottingham is believed to have the highest levels of household debt of any local authority in the UK but there is a significant lack of data on the problem at individual UK city and neighbourhood level. Nearly all of it is national in scale.
I am currently completing an audit of indebtedness in Nottingham. Gathering and analysing data from the debt advice sector, the audit has revealed the scale of the household debt crisis in the city. We have found that one in 20 people in Nottingham made use of the services of a debt advice agency in 2017-18. Consumer credit is increasingly being used to bridge the gap between income and household bills, and there is a significant mismatch between the provision of face-to-face advice and need.
An interesting stat...
1 in 20
people in Nottingham received debt advice in 2017/18
Since 2015, I have been working with organisations across the city to look at this issue, which has led to the creation of the Nottingham Financial Resilience Partnership. This unique, multi-agency partnership has been specifically set up to address the problems of financial exclusion, vulnerability and over-indebtedness in Nottingham.
There are 15 organisations in the partnership, including Advice Nottingham, Financial Inclusion Support, Nottingham Credit Union, and Nottingham City Homes; and a range of voluntary sector groups, including Age UK. We work with, but are independent of, local government.
Notable achievements so far include increasing the capacity, use and awareness of Nottingham credit union and other fair credit providers. We have also worked with high street banks to reduce the barriers vulnerable customers face when opening bank accounts. This has led to Yorkshire Bank changing its national policy on the acceptable forms of ID that can be used.
The inspiration for helping to establish the partnership was to translate my research into policies that can have a positive impact on local people’s lives. I am also motivated by a strong belief that universities have a responsibility to use their research and resources to benefit their local community.
Once the Nottingham debt audit has been published, I will use the findings to lobby for policy recommendations, both locally and nationally, to better support the debt advice sector. Other future plans include the establishment of a national forum to bring together and share the experiences and best practices of stakeholders involved in financial inclusion and debt initiatives across the UK.
Dr Shaun French is an Associate Professor in Economic Geography in the School of Geography.