London’s household debt crisis is urgent and growing. Through the Trust for London funded community organising project from Jubilee Debt Campaign, Together Against Debt, communities are fighting back. Head of Campaigns and Engagement, Eva Watkinson explains why this work is so important and what's been achieved so far.
In 2018 the Financial Conduct Authority found that London had the highest proportion of over-indebted people of any region in the UK. Recent polling by Jubilee Debt Campaign also suggests that London has the highest percentage of people who expect to be pushed into debt over the next six months.
London’s household debt crisis is urgent and growing, but through the Trust for London funded community organising project, Together Against Debt, communities are fighting back.
Even before the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, levels of personal indebtedness were on the rise, largely due to the growth in insecure and low paid work, and the lack of an adequate social safety net. Despite this debt explosion, it’s an issue that isn’t receiving the level of political attention it deserves. Growth in levels of indebtedness is a widespread, systemic economic problem, not as it is often perceived, a result of bad choices or individual failures.
Jubilee Debt Campaign has taken a community organising approach to try and tackle this issue, supporting groups to build campaigns and influence policies based on their priorities. Building collective power over the long term is the only way that communities will see change.
Growth in levels of indebtedness is a widespread, systemic economic problem, not as it is often perceived, a result of bad choices or individual failures.
The shame and stigma that surrounds debt is deeply embedded and alienating, and the impact that debt can have on mental health is well documented, and one of the reasons why many find it hard to talk about the issue. Coming together with a group of people facing similar issues and winning change helps to overcome that isolation and show that the problem is systemic.
Jubilee Debt Campaign began organising on Lambeth’s Leigham Court Estate in June 2021 following initial research and outreach. One of the residents reported that she owed over £3000 in energy bills because of poor insulation and disrepair in her council owned home. This was a common problem across the estate.
The group grew quickly, developing campaigning priorities and strategy. In less than a year the group has established a relationship with their MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who has visited the estate and raised their demands with the local council on their behalf, built a petition with over 450 signatories and gained media coverage.
In November 2021, the group submitted a deposition to Lambeth council, which enabled members to tell their stories and demand change at a full council meeting. As a result, they won commitments from the council to carry out home improvement works to prevent residents building up high levels of energy debt. Lambeth Council have committed to over £1 million worth of repairs on the estate.
The work of this group has not only generated tangible benefits that will directly improve the lives of residents on this estate, but members are no longer in a position of isolation. They have built their collective power and a platform to go on and win other campaigns. All this work has been led by the group, many of whom have never engaged in any form of campaigning, activism or organising before.
The Together Against Debt project also supports the Unfair Debt Group in East London and will support the growth of another group in the capital over the next year
An important issue that has repeatedly been raised by group members is the use of bailiffs. As we approach local authority elections on May 5, we are campaigning for all councils to stop using bailiffs to collect council tax arrears. This is particularly urgent given that £4.4 billion of council tax arrears have now built up and a visit from a bailiff is a frightening and humiliating experience that plunges people deeper into arrears. There is also no evidence that bailiff use increases collection rates.
The campaign will build on these successes and share learnings over the coming months and years, linking up local struggles with a strong national voice to achieve debt justice.
28 April 2022