Financial Exclusion

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Bim Afolami: I thank Seema Malhotra for bringing this debate forward. I speak as chair of the APPG on credit unions and as a fellow member of the Financial Inclusion Commission. When I first came to this place two years ago, I visited a credit union just outside my constituency that serves several of my constituents. A lady there said something very important to me. She said, “Bim, it is very expensive to be poor.” I really thought about that, and everything I have seen in the past couple of years has confirmed my sense of the facts. We have already heard that 39% of people have no savings. When people have very little cash—or, should I say, money, resources, or assets—it can often cost them so much to do things and to borrow money. They can quickly fall beneath the waterline. That is one reason why credit unions are so important, and I echo the things that have already been said about promoting credit unions.

Financial education has not particularly come up in the debate. I lose track of the number of times that people have said over the past five, 10 or 15 years, “We need to promote financial education in schools. People need to learn better habits. They need to be able to manage their money more effectively. They need to understand how mortgages work, how credit cards work, what APR is and what interest is”, yet we never do anything. Will the Minister respond to that in his remarks? I know he is not the Education Secretary—at least, not yet.

Peter Aldous: Does my hon. Friend know something?

Bim Afolami: I do not say that with any knowledge at all.

John Glen: I am happy where I am.

Bim Afolami: That is good. I hope that the Minister will tell us what work he can do across government to champion financial education, which we all agree needs to be improved significantly.

The Minister wrote to me on 20 February about things that the Government were doing to promote affordable lending and credit unions, and about the affordable credit challenge fund, a no-interest loan scheme. Those are all very good things, but I simply say to him: we want more. There is a need for legislative change to allow all types of credit to be provided by credit unions. If he pushed that through Government, he would be a hero not only on the Government’s side of the House but on the Opposition’s side as well.

The last thing I will say about the cashless society is this: I was on a trip to China a year or so ago and I was in a city called Wuhan, a long way away from Beijing, and I could not use cash. Things are moving very fast. I could not use cash. We need to enable people to adapt to the new society and not try to hold back the tide. The Government need to help people achieve that.


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