Guest blog post: Enabling ESOL clients to improve their financial health

Vicky ReboriIn this guest post, Vicky Rebori, Financial Capability Worker at the Mary Ward Legal Centre, gives an overview of the project, one of three funded by the Trust’s Innovation Grants programme for 2017/18.

The alarming growth of individual debt in the UK includes a sector of the population often overlooked: the migrant population. Individuals with English as a second language (ESOL) have particular needs setting them apart from other groups with significant debt levels. For instance, they show higher isolation, which in turn impacts on their mental health. This group consists of foreign adults, including ESOL students and economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. They are usually on a low income and lack confidence with the English language as well as with financial matters in the UK.

The aim of the project is to create, test and further develop training courses and materials which can be used to build the financial health of clients who have English as a second language. Despite the huge challenges represented by language and cultural diversity, Mary Ward Legal Centre have created a financial capability programme specifically for ESOL clients. In order to create the resources, we brought together ESOL tutors and debt advisers, to inform the materials we have produced.

So far we have:

  • Tested the resources through pilot courses with workshops reflecting six topics of interest: bills, budget, banking, debt, welfare benefits, payslips
  • Developed surveys to measure impact
  • Developed a training course for frontline workers and a survey to evaluate the training

Access to justice

The pilot courses have a dual purpose: to give information, and to reach clients who otherwise would not have access to legal advice. The courses provide an alternative channel compared to the more traditional route of calling or turning up to busy drop in sessions. The majority of these clients would not access debt advice services because they lack confidence and knowledge of the availability of help.

Although the delivery of the pilot courses is still at an early stage, it indicates that as a result of the workshops some participants are seeking legal support at Mary Ward and receiving either one-off advice or longer term assistance.
These outcomes suggest that the participants of the workshops feel more confident not only in talking about their financial issues but also in seeking help from a debt adviser.

What clients think

The feedback we’ve had so far has been extremely positive with the clients asking for a longer course or longer workshops.

The impact surveys show that clients are becoming more confident managing a budget and less anxious about financial terminology and dealing with money, and able to make informed financial decisions.

Some challenges, however, linger. For instance, dealing with layers of complexities related not only to numeracy skills but also to the existence of different finance practices and cultures, in particular, dealing with cultures with a complete lack of Westernised financial and banking culture.

One of the symptoms of this issue is shown in the surveys from the start of the course, where most of these clients tend to answer that they know how to reduce their monthly costs and to budget. However, when introduced to the budgeting resources and the way a basic budget is calculated in the UK they are puzzled. The reality is that they work out their budget using systems that are part of their cultural package and when facing a different way of calculating it they have to generate a cultural change in order to adapt and/or to embed unfamiliar content.

Making services accessible to all

Although most of the migrant population will learn and integrate to their new society, many will fall through the net and will subsist in vulnerable conditions ranging from ignorance to modern day slavery. It is important that services are accessible to these people. In working with ESOL clients to empower them with knowledge of basic legal rights and financial capability, we are creating accessible financial capability resources which can be used by other organisations working in the advice sector.

At Mary Ward we envisage a future where public legal education becomes embedded in advice service provision.

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