Public Faith and Finance
Levels of personal debt and financial hardship are rising, leading many to resort to payday lenders. In a context of welfare retrenchment and increasing financial exclusion, faith organisations, including from minority faiths, are not just plugging the gaps, but setting out alternative and often innovative approaches to welfare and economic justice.
Drs Therese O’Toole and Katya Braginskaia worked with FaithAction, secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society, to increase the impact of their Public Faith And Finance research through a series of practitioner-led networking events including the London Faith and Finance Fair held in 2016.
Funded by the ESRC through Bristol’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), the event featured high-level speakers from a wide variety of faith organisation practitioners. Facilitated discussions spread ideas and highlighted issues for further discussion and initiatives, including the potential for introducing faith-based financial education and literacy programmes across educational levels, and the need to challenge the idea that credit unions exist solely for the unbanked. Together the academic team and FaithAction used the event to capture some key messages on addressing issues of regulation and capacity-building; faith perspectives on debt; and encouraging partnerships, as well as increasing the profile and influence of the research. The sessions produced a set of policy recommendations.
Policy influence and input
A Faith and Finance Policy Roundtable with the APPG was convened at Portcullis House, chaired by Right Hon Stephen Timms MP and featured presentations by the PIs, with a response by Steve Double MP, and from Omar Shaikh of the UK Islamic Finance Council. The project’s recommendations were well received; many resonated with MPs’ concerns and highlighted issues relating to regulation of Muslim charities, and ideas for collaboration between faith, secular and governmental bodies to innovate ethical and sustainable forms of finance.
As a result, the team went on to provide written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion incorporating insights on faith-based approaches to financial education and literacy gained through the IAA project, and how these can be developed. The Report has been discussed on Jewish, Muslim and Christian websites while the networking events have led to potential partnerships between different faith-based and financial organisations.
Extending the reach of the research
Dr O’Toole commented that particularly effective activities included “being able to invite [high-level] speakers to present and share their good practices and case studies at the Fair - hearing from practitioners helped other organisations to better understand different approaches and enhance the ways the Report was received. The events were also very helpful in enabling us to identify most policy relevant and actionable insights from our research for onward dissemination with parliament. Stronger engagement with some of the organisations, eg. UK Islamic Finance Council…helped facilitate the ways in which findings were being communicated to the policymakers. Working with FaithAction enabled us to organise a policy-based event and also to increase the reach of the research [as] publicised on the APPG website and our respective portals (FaithAction and Public Spirit).”
Daniel Singleton, National Executive Director of FaithAction, commented “This project helped FaithAction to develop a new string to its bow, by highlighting the work of faith organisations in this area…where we can represent our members and advocate their work.”
Minutes from the Policy Roundtable released on the APPG Faith and Society website: http://www.faithandsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/APPG-Minutes-14-July-2016.pdf