The cost of credit: Labour activists get organised
As part of his Real Change to Win tour, Ed Miliband was in Walthamstow today to see how Labour and Movement for Change activists are working within local communities to take practical action on the issue of ‘legal loansharking’.
As a community organiser at Movement for Change, most of my time (like that of my colleagues) has been spent on the ground in communities, training and developing local activists to take action on issues of real concern to them and other residents. One of the most often-recurring concerns has been lack of access to affordable credit – and the devastating consequences that can result from using high-cost credit companies in desperation. One man I met in Walthamstow told me how he struggles to support a family of four and works two jobs just to make ends meet. His and other similar stories inspired the successful living wage actions Movement for Change ran with Labour Students last year. But his story had a more depressing detail. He told me that much of the income from those two jobs is spent on servicing debt and interest from his high-cost loans.
One of the key principles of community organising is that political action is developed through building relationships in order to find shared interests on which to act. As such, in each community where we work our organisers seek to build collective power by bringing together individuals who feel deeply about an issue and share a self-interest in working to tackle it. At a large-scale community event in Preston last week, led by Movement for Change’s chair Mike Kane, some 120 activists agreed that taking action on personal debt will be their shared focus in the coming months. Meanwhile, in north London Movement for Change activists have started organising an action day on debt advice for local churches, youth and community groups who share this same concern.
It is because this issue has recurred so often, and with such urgency, that Movement for Change is making a national training offer to activists who want support in kickstarting action in their own communities. The training will introduce the principles of community organising as a model for achieving political change; and focus on activists on mapping out a strategy for running local actions with specific ‘asks’.
While the lack of regulation of high-cost credit is a national problem that, ultimately, demands a national response, I believe that building power and acting collectively at a local level will be a catalyst to more far-reaching change. Today’s demonstration of community strength in Walthamstow is an important step in that process … so, where next?
Kathryn Perera is chief executive of Movement for Change
Ed Miliband, Kathryn Perera, Labour, Labour Students, living wage, Movement for Change, Stella Creasy, Walthamstow