What is financial inclusion?

Financial inclusion means belonging to a modern mainstream financial system that is fit-for-purpose for everyone, regardless of their income.

It is essential for anyone wanting to participate fairly and fully in everyday life. Without access to appropriate mainstream financial services, people pay more for goods and services and have less choice. The impacts of exclusion are not just financial but also affect education, employment, health, housing, and overall well-being.

Credit unions have been central to UK Government efforts to promote financial inclusion taking a pivotal role, for example, in delivering the Department for Work & Pensions Financial Inclusion Growth Fund which provided capital for on-lending to those without access to a source of affordable credit. Ending in March 2011, the loans provided under the fund totalled 405,000 with a value of £175 million and an independent evaluation of the scheme found that it saved loan recipients between £119 million and £135 million in interest payments compared with high cost alternatives.

This clearly demonstrates the social dimension of credit unions. One of the chief objectives of a credit union is often to promote financial inclusion, i.e. banking services and loans to those who would typically be rejected or overlooked by mainstream financial institutions. These are the people who are particularly in danger of turning to loan sharks or very high-interest payday lenders.

From January 2012, the Legislative Reform (Industrial & Provident Societies and Credit Unions) Order has allowed credit unions to open membership to new groups including businesses and social enterprises and to offer new fee-paying and interest-yielding products. Already a great many credit unions have begun to take full advantage of the new possibilities.

Furthermore, the credit union model relies on building social capital, and as a result helps strengthen ties within communities.