The recession continues to bite, and there are few places it is hitting harder than in Hackney. We already suffer from a historically high unemployment rate, and many people in the borough don't have the backing of strong community links or a financial safety net to fall back on.
From my own experience, I can attest to the impact of the recession on provision for the homeless, particularly in Hackney, as a result of the redeployment of significant council grant funding. The most vulnerable people in the borough are being hit hardest, and have the least ability to survive extended periods of financial difficulty. A recent report showed, for example, the impact on those who turned to Christmas loan sharks to buy presents for their family or travel to be with their loved ones over the festive season.
According to the Financial Inclusion Centre, over 5 million vulnerable households in the UK are seriously affected in some way by financial exclusion, and it is estimated that vulnerable consumers could be paying between £800-£1,000 a year in higher costs because they are excluded from mainstream financial services. Rejected by big banks, and unable to get decent loans, they are too often thrust into the hands of criminal gangs or predatory lenders - where in other places and times they might have had the support of strong family networks, community centres, cooperatives and mutual societies to rely on. Not to mention, of course, the welfare state - now increasingly set at such a level as to make it extremely difficult to live without employment.
There are efforts being made to reinvigorate and enhance those community networks of finance, however. The Hackney Credit Union continues to do good work in this area, and various TimeBank and LETs schemes in London are attempting to value people's time, rather than their earning power. FairFinance is operating in Dalston, trying to offer loans more reasonable than those from predatory lenders, to people whom the mainstream banks often won't touch. And reports such as Towards a Royal Bank of Sustainability remind us of the importance of a national approach to all of this, now that so many of our major banking players are propped up by the public purse.
Green MPs would make it a priority to diversify and mutualise much of our system of finance. It makes no sense for the majority of our money to be tied up with increasingly complex and unrealistic derivatives trading, when there are real, sustainable, socially and communally cohesive projects just waiting to be invested in throughout the country. While they might not make the return of a South Sea Bubble, they also stand much less chance of bursting. Our system of finance needs to be based on the needs of real people, and of the planet - not on the needs of the richest few.