This is what happens when community organising and policy combine

February 25, 2013 1:05 pm

By James Scott

In offering a vision of how the Labour Party would build a One Nation economy, Ed Miliband recently promised that a Labour government under his leadership would ‘cap interest on pay day loans’. This cap would instantly lift thousands from a situation of intense anxiety and financial hardship, loosening the stranglehold that the pay day lending industry has over the lives of many people and breaking down the system of bonded finance that has grown since 2008.

Ed Miliband’s commitment comes after a year of hard work by a large number of organisations and activists. The ‘Sharkstoppers’ campaign has been truly of the labour movement, involving a number of Labour MPs and Peers, a host of trade unions, a vast number of local Labour branches, the Cooperative Party (and bank!) and Movement for Change. Our work on the campaign began when we teamed up with Stella Creasy MP to run a listening campaign in Walthamstow. This early work showed us how deeply people felt about pay day lending, prompting us to begin building alliances of support across the capital and then across the country. This alliance now includes numerous organised communities, connected into the national campaign but each rooted in the experiences of their particular town or city. It is this combination, of the local and the national, which has created an expectation of action and which underpins Ed Miliband’s announcement last week.

The success of this campaign shows the potential for community organising to have an impact on the way the Labour Party develops policy. Ed’s announcement is in response to the hearing the voices of people who have organised to be more powerful and louder than if they had chosen to remain alone. He did not triangulate in the search for policy resonance, but responded to a new way of doing politics that asks someone what they believe and then asks what they are going to do about it.

Movement for Change have been experimenting with these new organising models, and in doing so are taking the campaign to end legal loan sharking into its next phase. Over the past four months we have had hundreds of meetings with people from the communities which flank the Kilburn High Road. Through this we now have a better understanding of the financial reality that face many families, and the complex and often surprising relationships they have with the pay day lenders. People often speak of devastating experiences in their local bank branch, turned down for a small loan in a degrading and impersonal manner, before heading to the pay day lender next door where they feel they are treated efficiently and with respect. Of course for many this illusion does not last long.

So for lots of people in Kilburn the prospect of an interest rate cap is a victory. But the depth of the relationships built through our community organising mean we know that this is only part of the story. If a cap is introduced, will any legal lenders remain in Kilburn to offer credit to families who suffer short term financial shocks? With the prospect of the mainstream banks filling the credit gap remaining so distant, would the mother that ran out of money on a Friday now be forced to go to an illegal lender to feed her children over the weekend?

It is because of such difficult questions that Movement for Change is now organising the Kilburn Fair Credit Commission. Over the coming months we will be working with a broad range of community leaders to investigate how we not only take on exploitative pay day lenders, but also improve local access to low cost, fairer forms of credit. This process will combine community organising and policy development, and show how Ed Miliband’s commitment to cap interest rates on pay day loans can be the first step in an on-going dialogue between the people whose lives are directly affected by the lack of fair credit and the politicians whose job it is to provide solutions.

Now that is a vision I could buy in to.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    What are the building societies doing on this issue?

    The Left is often at pains to emphasise the value of mutuality and cooperative societies yet in serving the needs of those in financial need, they often show as little or no more concern than profit making organisations.

    It begs the question, why don’t the building societies offer small, affordable loans? Why hasn’t one of them launched a pay-day lender offering fair rates? They’ve got the access to finance, they’ve got the infrastructure and branch networks and the capital and expertise to enter new markets.

Latest

  • Comment Reaching new communities

    Reaching new communities

    This article is from Our Labour, Our Communities – a pamphlet of 10 essays by Labour PPCs, published by LabourList in partnership with Lisa Nandy MP. I am proud to be standing as the candidate for my hometown of Hastings & Rye, but I am equally proud to stand as a parliamentary candidate who is also half Chinese and half British. My mother is Chinese Malaysian and came to this country 41 years ago to be a nurse in Hastings and continues to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Cutting Trident will be the price of support in a hung parliament. That’s the news reported from a meeting of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders this week. With Labour’s slim lead and the SNP and Green vote threatening to impact on its share, this is a serious issue. Labour’s policy clearly states, ‘Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Lord Ashcroft has told him he shouldn’t have done it in 2010. Lynton Crosby has told him not to do it in 2015. It’s no surprise that David Cameron is trying to wriggle out of televised leader debates during the General Election – even though he has said he is willing to take part “in principle”. Time perhaps to dust off one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite barbs “He’s frit.” Neil Kinnock tried it in 1992 to try to goad John Major into […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    By Stephen Timms MP and Ian Murray MP The Christmas period reminds us that modern life can be busy, hurried and demanding. The pressures of work, demands of family life and hectic Christmas schedules can prove stretching as we juggle competing demands. Increasingly the need for flexible work is driven by the complex shape of people’s lives; as parents go to work, struggle to make ends meet, perform career roles, take their children to school and activities and try and carve […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    As the start of the long campaign begins today, curbing the amount of money parties can spend between now and May 7th, Labour MP Jon Ashworth has sought to clarify what precautions are being taken to ensure publicly-funded government advisers are not using their time campaigning. Ashworth has sent a letter to senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood, asking him to answer a number of questions about what kind of campaigning activity was permitted and undertaken by special advisers (SpAds) in […]

    Read more →