Financial capability: are we focusing on the wrong sort of behaviour change?

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 16.23.07 copyIdeas to Impact working in partnership with Vista, CALS and the WEA undertook an evaluation of workshops for older people funded through the Money Advice Service What Works? programme.  The full report is downloadable on the Vista Leading the Agenda webpage or the Money Advice Service Evidence Hub.

The research originally intended to answer the question:

Is support around money management more effective when delivered within the wider context of older people’s lives than solely focusing on money knowledge and skills? 

We ran into some methodological and practical issues in relation to recruitment of participants, and despite reaching some of the most socially and economically excluded people in the country, in particular older Asian women living in the most deprived wards in Leicester, MAS asked us to stop the project before we had completed the evaluation, although we did have 163 survey responses and had run two focus groups from which the results below come.  The issues and implications around the practicalities of running evaluations in the VCS will be covered in a blog post to follow shortly.  In the meantime this post focuses on one of the key issues to emerge from the project.

Does financial capability training and support lead to financial behaviour change?

A report commissioned by MAS, Financial capability and wellbeing[1] states, “behavioural economists report that most individuals do not behave rationally and predictably, when it comes to spending money. Even though an individual may be financially literate, this same individual may behave in an irrational financial manner”.  The paper Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors[2] describes a meta-analysis of financial capability interventions and concluded, “Our meta-analysis revealed that financial education interventions studied explained only about 0.1% of the variance in the financial behaviours studied, with even weaker average effects of interventions directed at low-income rather than general population samples”.

Much of the existing literature around financial effectiveness and behaviour change talks as if it were a given that people’s financial goals are paramount in their decision making, as opposed to people deciding not to act in their financial best interests because something else is more important to them. Behaviour change techniques such as goal setting, regulation, social pressure, and rewards are suggested, but no number of techniques focused around financial capability are going to be effective if it’s focusing on the wrong behaviour.

Some of the reasons that people in our project gave for less than logical financial behaviour included:

“My health is bad, if I don’t spend money on myself now my life is not worth living.”

“I don’t want to cause difficulties in the family by asking my husband about money.”

“If I save for the future I won’t have much money now, and I still can’t save enough to make a difference in the future anyway, so I might as well enjoy it now instead of being poor now and poor in the future.”

“I find keeping track of money stressful and I don’t want to do something that causes me stress.”

“I do not use savings accounts because they are not Islamic.”

“I know direct debits are cheaper but putting money into a meter I know what I’m spending.”

“I stay with British Gas because I know they’re a good company.”

What does this mean for practice?

The statements above are all logical decisions in some way, it’s difficult to fault any of them, and yet we may still believe that there is a need to change financial behaviour.  This means and there is a need to look broader than financial capability knowledge and skills to change them, for example:

  • Running whole-family workshops, or workshops around financial capability that were targeted at how to talk to family about money perhaps depending on how good people’s relationships with their families are?
  • For the woman who was worried about cultural traditions and upsetting her husband, support needs to be focused around how she addresses this first.
  • For the man who feels he has to spend money or his life is not worth living, behaviour change could address how he could feel as though he could make his life worth living through activities that are low or no cost, or how improving his mental and emotional health might be key to reducing spending.

Of course, this will be no surprise to the agencies who are at the sharp end of supporting people day in and day out.  After all, money advice did used to be called debt counselling, and advice agencies supported people across a wider range of issues than “just” advice.  To some degree the change towards a more focused financial capability intervention and away from the broader issues was caused by a positive effort to stop advice being given by people who were well meaning but legally-challenged, for example with the development of the Community Legal Service Quality Mark, which I was involved in developing on behalf of the advice sector with the now defunct Legal Services Commission (the Quality Mark is now the Advice Quality Standard).  On the other hand, commissioning of advice services has become more restrictive and it is often difficult to find grant funding for advice, so it has also divorced many advice services from being able to take a more holistic approach.

Call to action

What can be done?  None of this is rocket science, many organisations are already doing this, but there may be opportunities for further partnerships:

  • For advice agencies getting out into the community to deliver advice in conjunction with other organisations.  This will also help with the need that many participants expressed to have support on an ongoing basis rather than as a short term intervention.
  • For community organisations inviting advice services into your organisations and looking at joint funding bids.
  • For funders and commissioners – recognise the important role that advice plays in communities, but also that this will be a revolving door or have reduced impact without addressing the broader issues that people face.
  • For all, consider how your practice captures the range of factors that people might use when financial decision making and equip your staff with the knowledge and skills for effective behaviour change.

[1] Money Advice Service (2015) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from

[2] Fernandes et al (2013) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from

No Community Cafe in Welland Park but we have a vision that could be used elsewhere….

CaféplanA group of Harborough residents came together a few weeks ago to look at whether we could take over the running of the cafe in Welland Park to retain it as a community facility with continued opportunities for the people with learning disabilities who were volunteering there.  We put together a business plan and got down to a shortlist of four and were interviewed by a panel of Harborough District Council councillors and officers.

We found out yesterday that Harborough District Council is in discussions with another bidder about the cafe in Welland Park.  This is disappointing, but we achieved a lot in a short space of time with various members of the community coming together to share our visions and ideas to create the business plan, which just shows what the community can do working together – thank you to all involved.

We did talk about the possibility if this doesn’t come off of finding somewhere else instead that might be more suitable for our aims, so this is still a possibility if people are interested.  Below is what we said we’d do.


Our vision is for a Community Café in Welland Park that uses the best of local food to produce high quality meals, brings together members of the community, particularly those who are at risk of isolation or disadvantage, is a focus point for community events, and provides volunteering and work experience opportunities for all sections of the community.

Our added value

A group of around 20 Harborough residents and organisations have come together in response to the request for a new body to run the café, some attending a meeting and some contributing by email and telephone.  Our intention is to set it up as a social enterprise, run by a representative board from the community, including local food producers, voluntary organisations and Harborough residents. We would also welcome public sector involvement.  We already have many offers of help from people as well as the organisations named in this proposal (see appendix two).  We believe that what will make the café in the park successful is the community involvement that we will bring through our existing work and the new initiatives that we will develop.

The added value that we believe we will bring over a more traditional business includes:

  • It will have a strong ethos of encouraging community participation and social inclusion.  As well as café space we would like to develop meeting space, for which previous studies have demonstrated that there is a need.  As well as letting it out to community groups, we will also develop informal groups where young and old and everyone in-between can meet for a drink and to undertake an activity, for example reading groups, knit and natter, happiness clubs, “Men in Sheds” activities etc.  We want it to be a place where people who would otherwise be isolated can drop in and find someone to chat to, as well as to turn it into a comfortable space with top notch local food and drink for people to meet family, friends and neighbours.
  • We will look at how we can work to reduce demand on public services, such as exploring “social prescribing” with local health services, for example where healthcare staff believe that someone has a low level mental health condition that is exacerbated by loneliness and isolation, then they can be referred to one of the activities that we provide in order to relieve this.
  • We will provide volunteering opportunities for people with learning disabilities and others in the town who need experience in order to gain confidence and skills for employment.
  • We will run it as a not-for-profit social enterprise, putting the profits back into the company to further benefit the community.  We will have a board and volunteers who will give their time for free to further generate profit.  We will generate our own income through sales but we will also raise additional funding through grants, trusts and crowd funding to run our social inclusion projects, as well as working with local charities in the town to raise income so that they can also deliver activities from the cafe.
  • As a social enterprise we will be able to bring money into the town from external bodies such as the Big Lottery or Heritage Lottery Funds and other trusts and foundations.
  • We will have space for local artists and crafts people and other businesses to display and sell their work, thereby supporting the local arts scene.


We will deliver our vision through:

1. Producing high quality food using local produce

Our menus will be designed to appeal to the different sections of the community.  We will source as much of our produce from local farms and other providers.  Partners EdibLE16 and Farrinheight Foods already have many links, and we will develop more.  Food will be freshly cooked and prepared on the premises with options on the menu for vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs, and those with allergies/intolerances etc. We will aim to expand the summer opening hours from 8am to 6pm and winter 8am to 4pm and later for specific events. We will develop the menu over time, some examples of the types of food we would like to do are below:

  • Breakfast: a range of breakfasts including full English Harborough Breakfast, various items on toast, eggs Benedict, freshly baked pastries, cereals and fresh fruit.
  • Lunch: a basic range of sandwiches, jacket potatoes, soups and salads, keeping the prices as low as possible for people who like simpler meals and might be on a limited budget.  We will also provide a range of panini, filled ciabattas, tarts, and salads using different ingredients to appeal more to “foodies”.Cakes and snacks: homemade cakes and pastries, changing daily, will be available throughout the day.  We will also provide toast, teacakes, scones, fresh fruit, yoghurt, biscuits, flapjack bars, chocolate and crisps.
  • Drinks: we will provide a full range of fair trade fresh coffees and teas, soft drinks, juices and smoothies.
  • Evening bistro: this will be run during summer months, and will include “Pop Up” evenings of different themes from local providers and including alcoholic beverages.
  • Mobile kisok: we will run a mobile cart with a range of snacks including ice creams (in the summer), crisps, cakes, fruit, drinks, including hot drinks and soup (in the winter).  It will be responsive to events, and provide refreshments for example for tennis and bowls clubs.

2. Running and encouraging a range of social activities to include and integrate all sections of our community

Just as important as high quality, fresh food will be the environment that we create in the café that encourages community involvement and cohesion.  See appendix one for information about the different sections of the community we will target.

  • Social and leisure groups: through our staff and volunteers and local members of the community we will set up a range of groups and activities for our customers and encourage and support them to set up their own groups.  This might include reading groups, knit and natter, happiness clubs, bridge or other games, and gentle fitness activities weather permitting. Although some activities may appeal to specific sections of the community, our overall aim will be to integrate everyone around common interests to improve community cohesion.
  • Book exchange: we will run a used book exchange in the café where people can come and exchange books for a small fee.
  • Games: we will hold a collection of games that can be played by adults and children.
  • Coffee pending: we will have a coffee pending system so that people can pay for an extra coffee to donate to the next person coming in needing it, we know that poverty is one of the causes of social isolation amongst older people, and this might help to encourage people out who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

3. Providing volunteering and work experience for people with learning disabilities and other community members

We will continue to provide volunteering opportunities for different members of the community.  This will include people with learning disabilities as now through Hft, as well as other volunteers including older and younger people to enable different sections of the community to mix and for people who need it to gain skills, experience and confidence to move onto employment, education or training.

4. Running and supporting local events

We will run events and coordinate our activities with events run by other groups and would seek to provide a comprehensive calendar of events in and around the café as well as complimenting events organised by other organisations.  Events could include:

  • Teddy Bears picnic events on the lawn
  • Outdoor puppy party venue for the local veterinary surgeries to use
  • Sunday afternoon jazz on the lawn
  • Acoustic music nights
  • Mini food festivals
  • Craft fairs
  • Local producer events
  • Childrens swap shop, passing on childrens clothing and toys
  • Arts and craft events
  • Skills events, e.g. willow weaving, textiles shows
  • Themed events, e.g. Easter, Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas

5. Providing space for meetings and for people to sell arts and crafts, produce, Fair Trade goods and other items

During the first year we will seek funding to reconfigure the space in the café to provide two separate spaces, the main body of the café for anyone, and a separate space that can be set out as a café or a meeting room for groups to meet (see below for more details).  This will be used for activities that we run some of the time, but will also be let out to local groups for £10-15 / hour (previous feasibly studies have indicated that there is a demand for this).

Our partners, skills and experience

Over twenty people have contributed to this plan and have offered their help in the future. Organisations include:

  • Transition Town Market Harborough
  • edibLE16 Ltd
  • Farrinheight Foods
  • Hft
  • Voluntary Action South Leicestershire
  • Seven Locks Housing
  • Sustainable Harborough
  • Ideas to Impact Consultancy Ltd

In addition we have local residents offering to help, including: the chair of a local company and charity supporting disabled people; a teacher at Welland Park; someone who ran a successful town centre business in Market Harborough for many years; a market trader; a journalist and writer; and other people offering practical help and skills.