by Jendella Benson 

Every now and again, the Conservative party likes to tuck away its discompassionate fangs and remind us that they do “care” about people who are struggling to get by. Towards the end of last year, Prime Minister Theresa May took great pains to let us know that she had “just about managing” families in mind when it came to the financial impact of Brexit.

Earlier this month the Chancellor revealed the first of two budgets for the UK in 2017, and I’m no economist, but I can pretty confidently say that a lot of us “just about managing” families will be suffering the brunt of the impact – again.

It’s not that the Conservative party doesn’t care at all about families, it’s just that some kinds of family get more consideration than others. The most recent proposals to cut inheritance tax will benefit a certain type of family, while abolishing Child Tax Credits for third and subsequent children, and removing the family element of Child Tax Credits completely for children born after 6th April will significantly disadvantage a different type of family.

While 25% of white working families are surviving on a low income, the number jumps to 45% for Black and Minority Ethnic working families. In fact when you dive into specifics, more than half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani working families are on a low income. So when they cut programmes like Tax Credits, it is BME families that are disproportionately affected.

It’s well known that financial problems are a leading cause of stress, depression and relationship breakdown, and many of us – the children of first- and second-generation immigrants who have struggled to forge a life on low incomes and multiple jobs – have experienced one or more of these effects first hand.

Every now and again I’ll have a conversation with someone where the topic of financial education comes up. “Why don’t they teach it in school?!” is the cry. We’re left wondering, ‘is this a way of actually keeping the majority of people from being financially literate?’

Whilst it is true that vast portions of the financial industry profit off of the general public’s economic illiteracy, first and foremost we inherit our attitudes towards money from our family and those closest to us. Talking openly about money isn’t terribly British, but when money is short and struggle abounds, the topic of personal finances can be particularly thorny. Money is a topic with the kind of emotional baggage that makes any objective conversation almost impossible. Whether your family pinched the pennies or spent money quicker than it seemed to come in, the anxieties that we have around personal economics can make open discussions tense and confrontational.

Talking about money is important because studies show that people who acquire financial literacy in childhood grow up to be happier, healthier and more confident. But when many of us grew up in wider communities that were in similar states of financial distress as our immediate families, where would we find examples of financial confidence? Even now, many of us are at least relatively better off than our parents. However, with wages falling behind inflation, the cliff edge of Brexit approaching, and a government that continues to reward the wealthy and believe the absurdity of “trickle down economics”, money is a sore point that we’d rather not think about until we absolutely have to. So how do we stop passing on our own trauma and anxiety to our children?

There are child-specific lessons that you could begin implementing. Experts recommend encouraging an interest in day-to-day mathematics, counting coins and learning the value of notes, how supply and demand works when you’re in the supermarket, or the idea of doing chores to earn money that is saved towards a specific goal. But more than anything, children learn from their parents’ example. If we want them to be financially literate, we need to model financial literacy: a basic budget, simple long-term planning, regular saving, and a bit of savvy when shopping. Even if you feel like as an adult you’re starting from scratch, it’s important to bring your children along for the ride.

This is why, as uncomfortable as it often is, we need to come to terms with our own relationship to money – however unhealthy it may be. Sometimes it involves digging into family history and the incidents that left indelible marks on our psyche, but it may also be just admitting that the thought of checking our bank balance makes us anxious.

It can be really hard, I know, and I’m speaking as someone who very recently has begun this process myself. Once the initial cold waves of nausea were conquered, learning how to be financially literate has brought a strange sense of liberation that I hadn’t known was available to someone who has always felt like they were “just about managing”.

I have no faith in this government and even less faith in capitalist systems. They will not redeem themselves. So while we wait for the second global financial crisis of our lifetime (call me paranoid, but I feel like it’s coming), if the only thing that our children inherit from us is a healthy relationship to money and the confidence to look their bank balance in the eye, then at least they’ll have a head start that many of us were not afforded.

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Media Diversified Headshots 142Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts for various publications online and offline, and is also an occasional public speaker and workshop facilitator. She tweets regularly from @JENDELLA and more of her work can be found at

You’re Doing It Wrong is a bi-monthly column by Jendella Benson on parenting, relationships, and the kaleidoscope of small victories, anxiety and unsolicited advice that is modern family life.

One thought on “We may not be getting richer but we can learn to be financially literate

  1. I think that many of those financial literacy lessons depend on having money to spend in the first place. How can your kid learn to manage their budget if you cannot afford to give them a budget in the first place?
    But yes, I think schools can and must play a vital role in financial literacy. Too many young people leave school without having an intuitive feeling for sums. They cannot estimate the total of their grocery bill or calculate interest.


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