Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 254)



  240. Supposing we were considering a recommendation that said that an Easterhouse-type project could be part of the way forward for other communities. With central Government, even when it is trying to help, sometimes inadvertently the bureaucracy gets in the way. Are you really saying to me that you would be confident that a man from a ministry could move into Liverpool or somewhere and set up an organisation that you would recognise as useful and like your own?
  (Dr Holman) I think it would be very good for the man from the ministry but I do not think that would work out. That is not the idea. I think the idea is that the Government should fund existing community projects.

  241. You think that the embryos are all out there?
  (Dr Holman) Yes.

  242. In Manchester, in Liverpool?
  (Dr Holman) Yes, and in Birmingham.

  243. All you have to do is find them and give them some core funding in a realistic way?
  (Dr Holman) Yes, and long term funding.

  244. And give them some local discretion?
  (Dr Holman) That is right, give them long term funding and a hardship fund. I think the important word is "involvement". We must not treat people as little charitable paupers.

Dr Naysmith

  245. You were listening to the evidence previously and I know one of the previous witnesses was talking about credit unions and she kind of implied that it was not of great help to her because she could not afford the payments. You have a credit union in Easterhouse probably.
  (Dr Holman) Yes.

  246. Do you think there is a place for credit unions if you have got the hardship fund as well? Could you compare the hardship fund and the credit union for me and tell me if there is a different role for the two organisations?
  (Dr Holman) We have got a credit union. It has got over 600 members. It meets on our premises, the North Easterhouse Credit Union. I would say that nearly all the families who come to us are not in that credit union. Credit unions are great. There is a kind of creaming off of the poor from the very poor. If I look at the people who come in to pay their money into the credit union, I am one of them, number eight on the list. Many of them are greys. They are elderly people and couples who are making use of them. The people who are not making use of them are those who are already in debt and particularly lone parents because they cannot save. You were also asking if credit unions could be a means of help along with the hardship fund.

  247. Yes. It is not a top-up. You have to have some money to put in.
  (Dr Holman) That is right. I think credit unions could be used in that way. Also, credit unions have now got some experience in assessing need, being able to tell if sometimes people are telling you the truth. As I have put in here, I have been conned a couple of times. That kind of local expertise of having lived in the area all their lives, that is crucial in those cases.

  248. You mentioned Crazy George's and that is presumably a legal operation.
  (Dr Holman) Yes. It is a chain of shops.

  249. More than one person has told me in the past that there is a role for such high interest operations because there are people who get to the stage where they cannot credit anywhere.
  (Dr Holman) That is right.

  250. Perhaps because of their record in the past and so on. They may have enough money to pay back a loan but they cannot access any of the normal ones. People say to me that people like Crazy George's and other people, not the illegal ones, have a role to play. Do you think that is true?
  (Dr Holman) You might argue that there is a role for the illegal loan shark.

  251. I am not asking that.
  (Dr Holman) I am saying this because he does provide a loan for a person who could not get a loan anywhere else, although it comes with strings. In Easterhouse there is no main line bank so where do people turn for credit? They have got to go to high interest bodies. Perhaps one of the other things the Committee might say to banks and to building societies with all this talk now about business having a social conscience is, "Why is it that the number of banks and building societies are still being withdrawn from estates in the inner cities?" They should be increased if they are to provide a service to low income people.


  252. Is it getting better? Over your eight or ten years that you have been working in your community is it getting better or is it getting worse?
  (Dr Holman) It is a big question. I think that housing-wise things are definitely getting better in our area, mainly due to housing co-ops and housing associations. There has been a big improvement. The biggest thing about housing improvement is that you get gas central heating, which is an enormous saving in money compared with electric fires. Unemployment: as you know, one of New Labour's big successes is the New Deal. A lot more people are in work, albeit many in temporary work and very low paid work, whereas I want for our youngsters a career, not working in McDonalds. I would say in the area as a whole the biggest problem and increasing problem—and this is not new—is drugs. In our area it is heroin. We are not winning the battle. Whatever the tzar says we are not winning the battle against drugs. I mention it because if you are on drugs you have to pay for it. We are now in a situation that, whereas often drug users steal to fund their habit, we are now reaching a position where some drug users are borrowing to fund their habit. The loan sharks are now crossing over into the drug field.

Mrs Winterton

  253. Is the success of your project not because you are community driven; it is from bottom-up rather than top-down? On the drugs issue, do you know of Gail McCann, who has founded that very successful community effort called Mothers against Drugs?
  (Dr Holman) I do. It is at Cranhill, three miles from us.

  254. Are you able to get assistance, advice and so on—and this is nothing to do with the Social Fund—from that organisation about fighting drugs in your area?
  (Dr Holman) Yes. What they have done, what we have not done, is that they are prepared to grass on drug dealers.

  Chairman: Again, we have run out of time. It is always the enemy; we could go on all day. We are very grateful to you for your evidence, and for your written evidence as well. Thank you for doing all the work that you do.

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