Fortnightly financial five minutes #2 Paul Fox, Regional Manager at the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS)
Nigel Yeates, Communications & Stakeholder Business Partner, speaks to Paul Fox, Regional Manager at the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) about financial education, debt guidance, and what he'd do with a windfall.
FSCS advocates financial education and I know MaPS is passionate about financial wellbeing. Can you tell us a little more about what you mean by this?
Financial education is any activity that helps children and young people develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to manage their money well in later life. Anyone who looks after or works with a child or young person – at home, at school and in the community – can have a meaningful impact on their financial wellbeing.
Financial education should respond to the individual needs of children and young people, and be tailored to their life stage, paying attention to the outcomes that are associated with good financial wellbeing. This includes children and young people in vulnerable circumstances, defined as those who, on average, experience factors that are linked to poorer financial capability and who are more likely to do less well than their peers.
For us at MaPS, financial well-being is about feeling secure and in control of your finances, both now and in the future. It’s knowing that you can pay the bills today, can deal with the unexpected, and are on track for a healthy financial future. People who experience financial well-being are less stressed about money. This, in turn, has positive effects on their overall mental and physical health, and on their relationships.
What are some of the key areas you think people should focus on to improve their financial well-being?
There are multiple aspects to financial well-being. We break down the UK’s general financial wellness into five key areas of work:
- Receiving a meaningful financial education.
- Saving regularly.
- Use of credit for everyday essentials.
- Accessing debt advice.
- Planning for, and in, later life.
The first step to taking control of your finances is doing a budget. It will take a little effort, but it’s a great way to get a quick snapshot of the money you have coming in and going out. Get everyone in your family involved with keeping to a budget. Sit down together and make a plan that you can all stick to. Work out how much spending money is available and agree between you what you’ll each have.
If you have loans or owe money on credit cards it usually makes sense to pay off the debt that charges the highest rate of interest first. Examples include credit cards, store cards, which normally charge the highest rates of interest, personal loans from the bank, which normally charge a lower rate of interest than credit or store cards.
It might be hard to think about setting aside any money as savings, but at the very least it’s a good idea to try and have some emergency savings. Emergency savings is money to fall back on if something unexpected happens, such as a boiler breakdown or if you can’t work for a while. You want to be able to pay for an unexpected repair, but it’s also important to have enough money for a few months in a sticky situation. Say you lost your job or split up with your partner and needed some time to get back on your feet – you’ll want a bit more than the cost of a new boiler or washing machine. Don’t worry if you can’t save this straight away but keep it as a target to aim for. The best way to save money is to pay some money into a savings account every month.
What were some of the headline numbers of concern even before the current cost of living crisis?
Here’s why these aspects of financial wellbeing are so important. Before the pandemic:
- 5 million people had less than £100 in savings to fall back on.
- 9 million people often borrowed to buy food or pay for bills.
- 22 million people said they don’t know enough to plan for their retirement.
- 3 million children didn’t get a meaningful financial education.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, figures like these place the UK well down the rankings of G20 countries, behind France, Norway, China, Indonesia and many others.
The UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing sets out a small number of big themes to engage and motivate large numbers of stakeholders. It is focused on measured goals which aim to bring benefits for individuals, their communities and wider society. The goals we want to see achieved by 2030 are:
- 2 million more children and young people getting a meaningful financial education.
- 2 million more working age ‘struggling’ and ‘squeezed’ people saving regularly.
- 2 million fewer people often using credit for food and bills.
- 2 million more people accessing debt advice.
- 5 million more people understanding enough to plan for, and in, later life.
You do a lot of work around debt. What would be your guidance for anyone facing challenges at the moment and where would you point people for further support?
If you’re struggling to keep up with bills and debt payments, don’t worry – you’re not alone. MaPS helps hundreds of thousands of people with similar worries every year. There are lots of things you can do to resolve your difficulties, including getting free debt advice.
The first step towards taking control is to put together a list of everyone you need to make payments to, including household bills, mortgage or rent payments, outstanding loan or credit payments and debt repayments. Check how much money you need to meet payments and whether you have fallen behind.
It’s important to get free debt advice as soon as you can if you’ve fallen behind on priority payments, or are facing any emergency issues, including:
- Being contacted by bailiffs.
- Receiving a court summons.
- Having your gas or electricity cut off.
- Having your home, car or goods repossessed.
If you’re having trouble with debt and finding it hard to manage things yourself, the last thing you might want to do is talk to a complete stranger about your problems. But it can be the best thing you can do, especially if you’re thinking about using a formal debt repayment method, like a debt repayment plan or bankruptcy. It’s always best to talk things through with an experienced adviser before you make a decision.
This is because there are many ways to deal with debts and you might not be aware of all the options that are available to you. The way that is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. A free debt adviser can help you decide which option is right for you. Depending on your circumstances, this might just take one conversation.
A debt adviser will:
- Treat everything you say in confidence.
- Never judge you or make you feel bad about your situation.
- Suggest ways of dealing with debts that you might not know about.
- Check you’ve applied for all the benefits and entitlements available to you.
This page on our MoneyHelper website will give you all the help you need to find a regulated debt advice practitioner who can help you - www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en/money-troubles/dealing-with-debt/use-our-debt-advice-locator.
Now, on a more personal note: if £10,000 landed in your lap tomorrow, what would you do with it?
Right now, I would try and put some of it aside and help build that financial resilience which is so important. I am a big fan of credit unions and there are some fantastic opportunities to save with an ethical and community-focussed financial services organisation right across the country. The Association of British Credit Unions has an excellent website (www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk) where you can search for a credit union that suits your location and circumstances. It is also very reassuring to know that if your credit union goes out of business and is unable to pay back your savings, FSCS will step in to ensure you get your money back.
Outside of that, I am trying to learn the skills for sea kayaking off the Dorset coast near where I live. I am an absolute amateur so a few more lessons would be handy.
Thanks very much Paul, sea kayaking certainly sounds like a lot of fun.
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The content of any discussions shouldn't be taken as an indication of future FSCS policy positions. The views expressed by guests are their own and don't reflect the views of FSCS.
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