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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Providing affordable credit to those who need it most

This opinion piece is over 1 year old

The cost-of-living crisis affects us all.

However, for those on lower incomes who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet, the impact has the potential to be devastating.

At a time when many of us will be seeking out the best possible rates on credit and loans as a means of paying escalating bills, many people with low (or no) credit ratings simply don’t have access to such options. In fact, turning to high-cost credit or illegal money lenders can often be the only solution available, often resulting in a spiral into long term debt and limiting peoples’ ability to properly participate in society.

At SIS, we see the provision of affordable credit as a very critical part of helping to create a socially and economically inclusive Scotland. In fact, ever since we were established 20 years ago, providing finance to support the scale up of affordable credit provision has been very much a part of what we do at SIS. Our recent investment with Fair For You, a CIC which provides affordable finance for purchasing white goods, is a great example of this in practice.

So when the opportunity arrived to play a leading role in helping to formulate a clear strategy for financial inclusion in Scotland, it felt like the right time to act.

For many years The Carnegie UK Trust has played a valuable convening role in bringing together key agents and thought leaders in Scotland’s affordable credit space. However, when the work of the Carnegie Working Group came to a natural conclusion last year, it left a void when it comes to developing a joined-up approach to financial inclusion.

That’s why SIS, along with a group of other policy makers and professionals from across the private, charity and not-for-profit sectors, have come together to create a new organisation which can develop new ways of extending affordable credit to those who need it most.

Financial Inclusion for Scotland has been launched with the aim of enabling better financial inclusion in Scotland by supporting those who find it difficult to access fair or affordable financial services, such as free banking, affordable credit and money management services.

Among the founders are Scottish Financial Enterprise, as the membership body for the financial services industry; Scotcash, a well-established and respected provider of credit based in Glasgow and a SIS investee; the Poverty Alliance, StepChange and Money Advice Scotland (amongst others) who bring the lived experience of individuals and households that face financial exclusion; and Fintech Scotland, to explore how innovative technical solutions might play their part. FIS is chaired by longstanding member and supporter of the Carnegie working group, Stephen Pearson, and SIS is providing both funding and secretariat services.

One key aim is to develop together a financial inclusion strategy for Scotland, with a set of clear and deliverable actions that will improve access to finance for all, particularly those individuals and households that find themselves excluded from the mainstream.

We are already working closely with the Scottish Government to develop these plans. This is a new way of working for SIS, however today’s challenges demand fresh thinking from all of us. If the current system is broken, it’s up to us to find new ways of fixing it.

Alastair Davis is CEO of SIS (Social Investment Scotland)