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The Switch deputy director, Megan Hunter, on Financial Literacy Improvement in London

The Switch is a London-based charity centred committed to helping children and young people discover their best future. Their work provides a vital link between education and the world of work by teaching financial literacy to those who need it most.

Based in Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the highest rate of child poverty of any UK local authority, The Switch aims to put a stop to current generative patterns.

Megan Hunter, Deputy Director of The Switch, sat down with us to discuss the charity’s current plans and future goals.

For Megan, her experience of financial literacy was almost non-existent. Despite receiving support from her parents growing up, she was still confused even at the time of applying for her mortgage: “I didn't understand that the more deposit you put down, the more favourable rate you get on a mortgage.

“There's all of this information that is so basic to someone's financial well-being that is not being taught,’ she says.

“Financial literacy is a key basic skill. If you don't understand how to manage money and what your options are with money then you risk falling into traps with debt or mismanaging your money,’

The Switch works with local families to ensure a better understanding of financial literacy is shared across parents and children. For Megan, she emphasises the need for education at a parental level as well, in order to be able to have these important conversations with children.

“Despite having a good job you could not understand how a mortgage works, how credit cards work, the differences with a debit card - these kind of issues. You can quickly spiral into a precarious financial situation and therefore become a risk - in the worst-case, issues such as homelessness.’

Image Credit: Megan Hunter

The charities work in Tower Hamlets has engaged a total of 85 schools so far. They’ve also provided 1800 volunteer opportunities and an impressive 5000 student opportunities. Likewise, alongside the pandemic, The Switch have introduced four brand new remote-delivery programmes, further supporting the need for digital skills in our current climate.

Whilst The Switch offer financial advice to those in need, Megan still believes that it should be embedded within the curriculum.

“To be financially savvy, to have that basic knowledge, I would say, is on a par with literacy and numeracy.”

“There's all of this information that is so basic to someone's financial well-being that is not being taught.

“I do think it should be mandatory at schools and in these instances, people are relying on parents, family, friends to give them this information but if your parents, family, friends, networks aren't sitting down with you and helping you through these massive milestone financial situations and explaining how it will work then how are you meant to know? You can easily make the wrong choice.

“It is something that should be taught in primary and secondary schools. Once you leave school at 18, I think there should be additional courses because that's when you start to have financial control over your life.”

For The Switch, measuring the impact of their work is a key requirement when scoping out school partners and funders. As such, they play close attention to the Department of Education to ensure that their programmes are relevant and coinciding with the national Careers Strategy.

Speaking about the change from cash to card, Megan offered an anecdote which is relatable for many. When shopping with her child, she withdrew some cash, when her child asked, ‘Did that machine just give you money?’.

“It’s funny how far-removed people are from money. Especially nowadays, where it’s all done digitally – I think it’s a lot more difficult to grasp now.

“Every child needs it because anyone can fall victim to money. It should be tackled society-wide - everyone should have this knowledge.”

Image Credit: Megan Hunter

However, it isn’t as easy as just adding it to the curriculum: “In primary school, teachers already have to teach such a wide curriculum, and then to have to teach all of the financial literacy on the top, I think it's too much and I think it should sit with an expert to teach in primary school.

“In a secondary school there may be more flexibility in the sense that there may be economics teachers who may have a good grasp. I really do think it should be a set session a bit like at the moment they have PSHE. I think that there should be also a regular slot for financial literacy and it's drip-fed over the course of secondary school.

But as we well know, financial literacy doesn’t just stop there. For many, the next steps are the most pivotal with regards to their financial future. Whether it’s university, a first job, rent, or otherwise, financial literacy must be a constant in our lives.

“A lot of university support time is taken up by financial support and supporting students that found themselves in debt. If universities and wider society can somehow crack a helpful system that students can plug into before they join university, I actually think that would have benefits to each individual as well.”

As for why financial literacy has been ignored for so long, well that remains a mystery: “It’s difficult to understand. I suppose there’s been such an emphasis on literacy and numeracy and to the detriment of wider subject like financial literacy which can impact your life.

“If you’re more financially literate then you’ll understand more about your contract, what that salary means to you, what that pension contribution is, all of these things. Everything that you sign up to do in your job and your financial reward package needs to be understood by he person singing up.”

To find out more about The Switch and the great work that they continue to do, please click here.


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