Access to finance in rural areas
A new report has suggested ways of tackling rural poverty through improved access to fair finance.
The research was led by Janet Wilkinson, on behalf of the Arthur Rank Centre, the Plunkett Foundation, the Church of England and the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. Funding for the project was provided by Comic Relief, Faith in Action and through an Arthur Rank Centre appeal.
A key hypothesis at the outset was that the provision of low cost physical access points to credit unions through volunteer run services through rural churches, community shops or other community groups would be one solution. However, initial research found that very few use these services where they have been tried; and where they exist they tend to be better at generating savings rather than borrowing while Credit Unions have a particular need to find borrowers rather than savers. In addition, Credit Unions only provide one part of the needed spectrum of financial provision and are generally not able to provide quick access to short term (‘payday’) finance
Overall, the project had eight key findings, each with related action recommendations. One exciting outcome is the development of a proposal for a Rural Money website in partnership with Sheffield Money, offering a wide range of financial provision for different needs as well as links for those needed help with debt. Funding is being sought for this. A set of advice sheets have also been produced are being piloted at parent and toddler groups. a life stage where affordable credit can be important.
‘We do not want to encourage indebtedness,’ said the Arthur Rank Centre CEO Jerry Marshall, ‘but there are times when money to pay for a car breakdown, a pram or fridge are urgent and savings are insufficient. We want rural people to have access to affordable alternatives to high cost finance.’