This blog was written by Social Enterprise UK Patron Michael Sheen, originally featured in Huffington Post.
Today I launch a project that is hugely important to me. The End High Cost Credit Alliance. As someone known more for acting than alliances it may not seem an obvious match. So here’s a bit of context.
Early last year it got reported that I was giving up acting to fight Nazis or some such nonsense. Well, not quite.
For the last six or seven years I’ve become increasingly involved with a whole range of voluntary organisations, advocacy groups, projects and individuals all across the UK working on supporting people going through a hard time in one way or another. It has been literally life-changing for me to see what people have to struggle with sometimes and the challenges others face in trying to help them.
About two years ago it became clear that I couldn’t keep giving the same amount of energy to both my acting career and this new kind of work. I either had to take a step away from it and scale down how much I was getting involved, or… I had to roll my sleeves up and take a much bigger step forwards. Make a proper commitment of time and money and focus.
Put real skin in the game.
So, that’s what I did.
I decided to shift the focus in my life and use my acting career to now fund and enable this new work. Make the most of having my own money, my own media platform, no party line to tow, no organisational remit to stay within.
And so, to cut a long story slightly less long, I started looking at the huge problem of household debt and, in particular, the exploitative credit lending practices targeted at those who can least afford it.
The Alliance that I have founded and that is launching today is the result.
Over the past 12 months I’ve been quietly pulling together like minded individuals and organisations from across the UK. People who have been working really hard to improve access to credit for all and to fight for a stronger safety net for those who need it. I was aware of the impact debt was having on lives across more and more of our communities. I would see it and hear about it increasingly in the visits to communities and projects I was making.
The financial playing field clearly wasn’t fair.
So I decided that this would be where I would make a start.
People need a fair, affordable credit product. Lenders need a fair, affordable credit product.
Fairness for the lenders. Fairness for the people they serve. That’s what the Alliance is about.
With the platform I can bring, alongside that of existing Alliance members, we aim to lead a national debate on the changes needed in business, politics and society. It’s time to have a national conversation about the use of credit, how it can be delivered in a way that helps not hinders our daily lives, health and wellbeing.
With my own resources I can put money behind projects and ideas that will encourage others with much greater resources to do the same. With each investment we want to make the situation better than it is today.
Together the Alliance can quickly identify solutions and collectively call for support and action. I think the greatest strength of the Alliance is the pragmatic approach we can take – identifying actions to demonstrate real change.
Move things in the right direction. Bit by bit.
Give people a fairer deal today than they had yesterday. One step at a time.
Credit is a good thing when it’s delivered fairly. That should matter to all of us.
So what can you do? Join us. Be part of the debate, call out unfair practice, push for a fair deal.
If I had one ask of you today, it would be to find your nearest provider of fair finance and see what they can do for you, for your family, friends and community. You may not need them today, or tomorrow but knowing who they are, how they work, what they can offer when you do need credit will ensure you have fair options if and when that time comes. The more people who use these providers, the harder it is for the high cost credit providers to thrive. We need to change the rules of the game.
A fair finance provider is simply a business that is prioritising YOUR financial needs, health and wellbeing, over THEIR profit. You might not have heard of them because they don’t have the marketing budgets of Brighthouse, Wonga and other household names. But there are many social businesses across the UK providing a fairer deal for customers – Fair for You, Moneyline, Street UK, Fair Finance, Scotcash, Five Lamps, Places for People, Lancashire Moneyline or your local credit union.
We owe much to the organisations and campaigners long-established before the Alliance came along. We are building on the great work of Carnegie UK Trust and the Affordable Credit Action Group in Scotland, the direct engagement work of Toynbee Hall in London, the many campaigns from the Centre for Responsible Credit, StepChange, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and others.
I’m certainly no expert but each member of the Alliance brings something different to the challenge. I aim to use my profile and resources to bring together those who are experts and to help build a real movement.
I hope you’ll join us.