Citizens UK sets out its manifesto ahead of the 2015 general election

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Today, Thursday 24th July, Citizens UK is launching its People’s Manifesto in the build up to the 2015 general election at a Civil Society Summit, hosted by Queen Mary University of London and attended by Rt Hon Sam Gyimah MP for East Surrey and Children’s Minister. 

In 2010 Citizens UK’s General Election Assembly was dubbed by the media as the ‘Fourth Debate’ when Brown, Cameron and Clegg all took to the stage at Westminster Central Hall to address the organisations eclectic membership and respond to its manifesto.

The 2015 Citizens UK People’s Manifesto launched today has been created with input from 300 institutions from across the UK and demonstrates real areas of concern from a diverse group of communities.

The eight asks are around the themes of: Governance of the UK; Improved Social Care; Children’s Health; Affordable Housing; Dignity for Families Seeking Sanctuary; Employment & Training for Young People; Curbing Exploitative Lending; and Increased Implementation of the Living Wage.

Detailed proposals range from a request for a time limit on adult detention for immigration purposes, and to end the use of pain-based removal methods; to the demand for social care to be provided by a small and consistent team who are familiar to the care recipient, with a minimum of 30 minutes per visit; and a call for employability skills to be included on the national curriculum.

Neil Jameson, Executive Director, Citizens UK, said:

“The Citizens UK manifesto proposals are true reflections of the issues that matter in our communities. They have been developed by our members who engaged the help of sector specialists to help refine each ask.

“From now until May 2015 we will be campaigning on each of these issues, and bringing them to the attention of local MP candidates, as well as friends and neighbours at places of work, worship, education and leisure; and ultimately at the polling stations.

“When people are organised they have the power to change their neighbourhoods, and the country, for the better. This democratic process ensures civil society has a place at the negotiating table with the people in power.”

Citizens UK is the home of national community organising and exists to promote civil society. The organisation brings together leaders from local institutions such as schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, universities and unions to work together on concerns identified by their members. These groups are often perceived as too different to work together, however when united they form powerful alliances locally and nationally.

Charlotte Wood, co-chair Citizens UK Council said:

“We know this process works. In the lead up to the 2010 election we asked the political party leaders to pledge an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes because it directly affected our communities. Earlier this year, the politicians stood by their word on this issue and through the Immigration Act the coalition government made this proposal law.

“We represent a huge body of people across the UK and I believe the issues we’ve identified such as housing, low-pay, immigration and children’s health will resonate with a large percentage of the electorate. It’s for that reason I hope the three main party leaders will return to our stage, as they did in May 2010, and address our members and respond to the ‘People’s Manifesto’.”

Teams from across Citizens UK’s membership are now rolling out targeted campaigns for each of the manifesto asks and working with partners to bring these to the attention of MPs and parliamentary candidates in marginal constituencies as well as the boroughs and cities where Citizens UK branches exist.

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Posted in All, Citizens for Sanctuary, Citizens UK, Community Land Trust, Living Wage Campaign, Party Politics, Publications, Social Care Campaign

Lambeth Citizens launch financial resilience strategy with Lambeth Council

Rabbi  Janet and Lambeth Council
Rabbi  Janet and Lambeth Council

Rabbi Janet Darley and Jane Bevis of Lambeth Citizens speak at launch of the Lambeth Financial Resilience Strategy

On Monday 14th July, Lambeth Citizens and Lambeth Council joined forces to launch their Financial Resilience Strategy for the borough.

At a launch event in Lambeth Town Hall, Lambeth Citizens leaders spoke about their campaign to tackle the spread of pay day loan shops and civil society’s role in reducing poverty.

There were also speeches from Cllr Paul McGlone, Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council and Lucky Chandrasekera, Chief Executive of London Mutual Credit Union.

The strategy, produced by the Council in partnership with community stakeholders, including Lambeth Citizens, aims to improve the financial situation of the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

The strategy focuses on eight key areas, including increasing the number of Living Wage employers, strengthening Credit Unions and tackling the rise in problematic debt caused by payday loans. These strategic outcomes are based on extensive work to understand the financial problems of Lambeth residents, including a six-month community Listening Campaign by Lambeth Citizens.

Listening Campaigns see local leaders in community institutions, such as churches and schools; carry out one-to-one conversations and group discussions to understand the real concerns of their friends and neighbours. In Lambeth, low pay and debt were issues raised again and again.

Rabbi Janet Darley of South London Liberal Synagogue said:

“In Lambeth, our Listening Campaigns have highlighted the reality that hundreds of people are living with insurmountable financial problems due to problematic debt. The impact of these problems is felt by people at all stages of life, from all backgrounds and in all situations. We are on the front line of these problems; we are the first to hear the stories and the first to feel the impact. We provide daily pastoral and financial support to those in desperate need because we have the relationships which make this possible.”

Tom Chigbo, Citizens UK Community Organiser, said:

“The Financial Resilience Strategy is the culmination of months of work to listen to and understand the financial problems faced by Lambeth residents. It’s great to now be working alongside Lambeth Council and other organisations on a range of projects to tackle these problems. Together we will be co-hosting an employer event to explain the benefits of the Living Wage to Lambeth based businesses, which we hope will see a number of businesses commit to implementing the Living Wage.”

Barbara Wilson, co-Chair of Lambeth Citizens, said:

“Community leaders from across Lambeth have contributed towards this strategy and we are looking forward to working with the Council to deliver its outcomes. Civil society organisations are at the front line of these problems, providing daily pastoral and financial support for thousands of people in Lambeth. By working together, our collective efforts are stronger.”

The launch marks a commitment from Lambeth Council,and civil society to work together on a range of activities to support residents of the borough to escape debt and poverty. Both are looking forward to building on this relationship by working together on this and other issues.

The Lambeth Financial Resilience Strategy has 8 strategic outcomes:

* More people earning the London Living Wage
* More people with access to the financial products they need
* A reduction in problematic debt
* More people getting the benefits and credits that they are entitled to
* More people can manage their money on-line
* More people feel able to manage their finances and cope with unexpected financial outlays
* A reduction in fuel poverty
* A reduction in food poverty

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Posted in All, Community Organising, Living Wage Campaign, London Citizens, Partnerships, South London

Another step forward on the long, long road to fair credit


David Barclay, Faith in Public Life Officer at the Contextual Theology Centre, and organiser on the Citizens UK Just Money campaign writes:

This is the day that many thought would never come. It is now almost five years since a group of churches, mosques and synagogues in the civil society alliance Citizens UK began to call for a re-introduction of anti-usury laws to stop people being exploited by excessive interest rates. Today, finally, plans have been announced for a total cost of credit cap.

And yet it is a day of some disappointment for the many campaigners who have worked so hard for this as they examine the proposals put forward by the FCA. The 0.8% per day cap would take just £1 off the industry average loan price, while the 100% total cost of credit cap would still mean that companies can maximise their profits by lending to people who they think won’t be able to pay back on time.

The Citizens UK Just Money campaign has already seen too often the impact of these practices. Take Sarah for example, a student at the University of East London who took out a payday loan when her student loan didn’t come through on time and ended up with her debt spiralling out of control. Or Deborah, a single mum who took out a loan over a year ago and is still spending most of her child benefit on the repayments.

They have both become actively involved in the Just Money campaign which in the last year has been highlighting the much stronger regulation of this sector in countries like Canada and working for local bans on payday loan adverts from Council-owned spaces. Along with the many others campaigning for a cap they should be enormously proud of the way their refusal to remain a passive victim of an exploitative industry has led to change.

But they will also be rightly angry that this change will not go far enough. The caps proposed would have barely changed the price of the products that Deborah and Sarah were sold. And whilst the proposed cap will put some limit on how much damage any one loan can do, it still won’t stop the common practice of people taking out one payday loan to pay off another. So even if some of the payday lenders’ worst business practices will now be outlawed, they can still shamelessly offer their products to those who are already in debt and then use what’s called a Continuous Payment Authority to get their hands on as much of someone’s income as possible before they have time to spend it on essentials.

If the FCA were really serious on clamping down on exploitative lending they would do three things. Firstly they would bring their caps down to a level that had some real impact on the price of a payday loan. Secondly, they would clamp down on the scourge of multiple loans through a real-time database (already suggested by StepChange debt advice charity and others). And finally they would accept the Just Money proposal to use the fines they collect from payday lenders and banks to endow a Community Finance Fund in order to support more ethical businesses like credit unions.

Only in this way would we start to really see the tide turn on exploitative lending, and prevent the stories of people like Sarah and Deborah from being repeated all over again.

N.B names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

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Posted in All, Citizens UK, Citizens' Response to Economic Crisis, Community Organising