Bonymaen young mums are #payingtheprice

Posted by Beth Jenkins AM / Thursday 18 December 2014 / Financial education Cost of living

Bonymaen is a typically working-class suburb of Swansea, one of many across the UK where life has gradually got harder and harder as the cuts of recent times have taken hold.

Here, I came across a group of mothers who attend Action for Children’s Swansea young parents service, who were left with little choice but to borrow money at rates often over 1,000%, paying hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds over the odds, grabbing their household budgets by the throat and refusing to let go.

The most-cited reason? “I needed money to buy my children Christmas presents.”

A familiar story

It is at this time of year that this kind of story resonates.  But what it is really telling us is how many people – as Paying the Price tell us  the Bonymaen young mums are not isolated examples – get to exercise so little power over their finances.

Problems such as low wage jobs, zero hour contracts and changes to benefits are beyond the National Assembly for Wales’ legislative powers. But when I was given the opportunity to bring a private member’s bill forward, I was determined to do what I could to empower the Bonymaen young mums and others like them, to equip them with the skills that would steer them out of the path of high interest lenders.

Financial education

If financial education became truly compulsory in Wales, we could build a reputation as having a financially competent workforce, which would in turn bring benefits to our economy as a whole and begin to turn around the long-standing problems we have faced since the end of heavy industry.

Financial education in schools was a part of my private member’s bill – the preventative part of this legislation. However, I recognised that people like the Bonymaen young mums need help right now and school wasn’t an option for them.  I wanted local authorities to put the financial well-being of citizens at the heart of everything that local authorities do – and make it a real priority.

This would have, for example, included free internet access in public libraries as a right, backed by beefed-up financial inclusion strategies with real bite.

Opportunity for change

I have worked with ministers to win a series of concessions that will go a long way towards achieving the aims of my bill, and so I have paused it for now. It was important to move financial education and inclusion centre stage and I believe that has been achieved. The next step is to make sure we drive real improvements so that everyone in Wales has access to the financial education, advice and support they need.

Bethan Jenkins AM

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