In Leicester, like many cities and towns across the UK, there is a major debt and poverty crisis. A low wage economy has created an environment with very high levels of child poverty, in-work poverty, homelessness and reliance on foodbanks and other voluntary services. This is having significant knock on effects for mental health and cohesion among communities. In such an environment it is absolutely essential that those in need of financial guidance are able to rapidly access the support they need. Unfortunately, early warning signs of a debt problem are often missed, individuals may have a poor awareness of the services available to help them, and all too often end up accessing inappropriate services such as ‘loan sharks’ or high interest loans. This means a potentially solvable problem spirals into a major crisis for the individual.

Given the complex, stressful world in which households live it is understandable they end up delaying dealing with debt. Delay is, however, a problem that appears solvable. If we can get individuals to recognise the problems that indebtedness bring and seek appropriate help early then it would have a tangible economic and social impact by averting, in some cases, a costly debt spiral. In ongoing work we are exploring the extent to which this problem can be ‘tackled at source’ by improving financial literacy in young people. Various exciting initiatives around financial literacy exist (e.g. the Your Money Matters initiative) but we need to carefully study how readily they will result in ‘improved’ decision making and reduced indebtedness.

In December 2021 and January 2022 we are holding four roundtable, focus-group discussions to explore ways in which we can improve financial awareness and understanding among young people. In the discussions we will explore the following questions:

  • The debt problem:
    • What are the main triggers of debt in young people and young adults?
    • How long are people typically in ‘bad’ debt before seeking help?
    • Do people know where to access appropriate help?
    • What are the main reasons for debt spirals?
  • Education and awareness:
    • Is there sufficient training around money management attitudes and skills (in schools, colleges, or elsewhere)?
    • In your experience, what training works and what does not to improve money management skills?
    • What are the barriers to effective training?
    • What are the barriers to young people seeking support?
  • Solutions in Leicester:
    • How can we practically improve financial literacy?
    • What role can community groups play in cascading information?
    • What role should schools, colleges and the universities play?
    • How do we reach disadvantaged groups across all of Leicester?
    • How do we engage and retain young people in training?

People can contribute to the discussion in person (the DMU campus in Leicester) or online, with each focus group lasting approximately one hour. The discussions are planned for December and January. If you are interested in taking part in the discussion, or finding out more about our work, then please contact Edward Cartwright.