Today I'm joining more than 9,000 bloggers in talking about poverty. I'm saying today, but around the world Blog Action Day 2008 the conversation has started already. You can see some of the posts linked here. But talking about poverty isn't just about heartbreaking stories about starving children in far away lands.
It's local and it's also about solutions. It's the guy outside M&S selling the Big Issue trying to earn a living. It's Citizen's Advice giving that vital help and hope. It's even volunteers helping children learn how to read. It's those and a thousand other stories.
During the recent problems in the banking system one sector of the finance industry has remained unscathed. Credit unions.
Credit unions don't rely on borrowing from banks or money markets. They don't buy up debt or loan books from other financial institutions. Risk is controlled very carefully. Members' interests come before profit and there are no shareholders. Credit unions operate simply, using the savings of their members to make loans to other members.
They are mostly run by volunteer members: for the community, by the community.
All credit unions exist in a limited environment called a Common Bond. It could be anything from a simple staff or union savings scheme, to larger service organisations serving a community like the excellent South Tyneside Credit Union.
Often, credit unions are a way for those who have been abandoned by the big banks to save and borrow sustainably. People have been helped out of the poverty traps of pawn shops, cheque cashing shops and doorstep loan sharks. They've avoided being ripped off by high street high interest electrical goods stores. Some even used credit unions a couple of years back to fill the funding gap after the collapse of hamper firm Farepak.
What's more, savings in credit unions are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme in the same way as deposits held in banks and building societies.
Anyone can have a credit union savings account, and at the minute you'd be daft not to. If you haven't joined one, you can find your local one now. As well as members, credit unions need volunteers, so if you've got some spare time and want to learn some new skills (or teach some of yours) your local credit union would like to hear from you.
South Tyneside Credit Union
119-121 Prince Edward Road,
Tel (0191) 454 7677
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