Improving the financial capability of people with English as a second language

Mary Ward Legal Centre image 1-6The Trust’s chief executive, Joanna Elson OBE, provides insight into the Mary Ward Legal Centre’s project on supporting ESOL students to increase their financial capability and the resources produced as a result of this work. The project was supported by the Trust’s Innovation Grants programme 2017/18.

One of the reasons we were keen to support the Mary Ward Legal Centre in this project was that we know people for whom English is a second language face greater barriers to accessing money and debt advice. Language skills, getting to grips with financial terminology and understanding cultural issues are just some of the challenges faced. We were also aware that debt advice organisations working with ESOL clients have fewer resources to call upon to support them in their financial capability work.

As a result of this project the Mary Ward Legal Centre, working with ESOL clients, ESOL tutors, community organisations, debt advisers and Wiseradviser colleagues have produced a number of free resources including:

  • Six ESOL Money Skills workshops
  • A training course on financial capability for frontline workers engaging with ESOL clients.

These resources can be accessed via Wiseradviser.

In testing and refining the materials, key student capabilities were evaluated. These included; understanding bills and consequences associated with non-payment, doing a personal budget, maximising their money (including welfare benefits), banking and dealing with debts.

After the course, students demonstrated that they were able to do their own personal budget, organising their bills according to their priority. Students also showed increased confidence in dealing with money and in the example of a number of female course participants, greater involvement in financial aspects of their households. In some cases, the task of calculating the budget changed hands from husband to wife.

The course also helped people maximise their income and know how to deal with banks. A key outcome was that many of the clients felt more in control of their bank accounts, and that they now understood their bank statements. For one of the participants this was crucial because they dealt with the bank more than they did with cash in their daily life. With their salary being paid into the bank, it was important that they understood the banking information.

Another student who was dealing with council tax arrears described feeling less anxious having sorted out her debts as a result of joining the course.

In addition to the course for ESOL students and clients, the Mary Ward Legal Centre developed a training workshop for frontline workers working with ESOL clients. The feedback on the workshop was positive with all volunteers and staff who attended saying that they found the training very good and would welcome more like it. The materials produced were well received and the majority of participants reported an improvement of the skills needed to deal with clients with money issues. All of the frontline workers were happy to recommend the training to colleagues.

And the work doesn’t stop there. We are pleased to hear that the Mary Ward Legal Centre is exploring ways to incorporate the course into other educational programmes, including their summer curriculum of the Mary Ward Adult Education Centre.

“We are very grateful to the Money Advice Trust for funding us to create these essential resources to build the financial health of clients who have English as a Second Language. Co-produced with ESOL students and tutors, these materials are tailored to meet the needs of ESOL clients and have made demonstrable improvements to the lives of those who participated in the pilot courses. Although they are tailored to ESOL clients, their simplicity of language means they can be used for other clients wanting to improve their financial capability.”

Paula Twigg (Director at Mary Ward Legal Centre)

Learning for the sector in working with ESOL clients and further details on project activities, including the evaluation of course impacts, are included in the Mary Ward Legal Centre’s project report, which can be found here. This is particularly helpful for agencies considering utilising the resources and / or already working with ESOL clients.

I encourage you to engage with these resources and we would be keen to hear from you if you use these materials in your own context.

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