November is Financial Empowerment Month
This year, instead of Financial Literacy Month, we’re celebrating Financial Empowerment Month. Here’s why…
By Miranda Saroli, Knowledge Mobilization & Social Action Coordinator, Access Alliance
Financial Literacy Month has been celebrated for over a decade in Canada. This special awareness month, organized by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) of the Government of Canada, seeks to strengthen the financial literacy of all Canadians1. This year, the focus is on the renewed National Financial Literacy Strategy, which calls for changes to the Canadian financial system to ensure it is accessible, inclusive, and effective for all Canadians2. This appears to be a fairly progressive initiative, so why did Access Alliance, a newcomer-serving agency, decide to take it one step further and celebrate Financial Empowerment month instead?
First, a bit more about Financial Literacy Month
In November, financial institutions and social service organizations across the country are encouraged to organize knowledge-sharing events and share resources focusing on money and debt management, saving for the future, and financial rights and responsibilities1.
Having the skills, knowledge, confidence, and tools to make informed financial decisions are essential for anyone living in Canada. The recommendations of the Government’s National Financial Literacy Strategy are steps in the right direction; however, we recognize that financial literacy alone does not guarantee financial security.
Exploring the Root Causes of Financial Vulnerability
A research project completed by Access Alliance in 2018, engaging newcomers and service providers, revealed several unique barriers that newcomers and refugees face in accessing financial information and tools. For example, participants reported services and workshops were not available in their preferred language, or were not culturally sensitive or easily accessible. Cultural beliefs and views about money strongly shape financial practices like taking loans, budgeting, donating to charity, and saving for retirement and children’s education. Data from the study pointed to the root causes of financial vulnerabilities and recognized that service and knowledge barriers facing newcomers are often linked to system factors such as:
- unemployment, under-employment, or precarious employment
- unaffordable housing and income insecurity, and
- social exclusion.
The study also found that newcomers with precarious immigration status (refugee claimants, temporary work permits or visas, non-status) experienced these financial vulnerabilities and financial service barriers three to four times more often than newcomer groups who were permanent residents or citizens. This is concerning because, since the study was conducted, rates of poverty within Canada are still extremely high, with about 1 in 7 people in Canada living in poverty3, and residents in urban centres such as Toronto facing a housing crisis4. Therefore, we know that newcomers, particularly those with precarious status, are feeling the impacts of income insecurity even more deeply.
In addition, problematic government policies, like the Immigration Transportation Loan scheme that requires sponsored refugees to pay back their transportation and medical costs to come to Canada, still exist and further exacerbate financial vulnerabilities facing newcomer families.
In other words, no matter how much knowledge or information one has about managing your savings and debts, it will make little difference to your financial security if you are unemployed, cannot afford housing, and are struggling to pay back the debt to the government!
Beyond Financial Literacy to Financial Empowerment
Financial empowerment goes beyond building knowledge about the financial system and services, toward supporting communities to be able to participate and feel included in Canada’s financial system5. At Access Alliance, our goal is to support clients and their communities to help them achieve financial security, so they are able to cope with financially stressful life events, such as unemployment, divorce, or health problems (otherwise referred to as financial resilience6).
So what does financial empowerment look like at Access Alliance?
- We offer services that improve clients’ financial wellbeing, i.e. not only financial literacy workshops, but also tax clinics, coaching for financial self-management, information on how to navigate the financial system, referrals to food banks, housing and healthcare, connecting to employment and reskilling services.
- Advocacy for changes at the broader institutional and systems levels, i.e. calling for changes in financial institutions’ culture and practice to improve safe and accessible services to all regardless of immigration status, decent work, improved pathways for permanent residency, and more.
As an organization, we recognize the importance of both of these processes happening simultaneously in order to empower our clients and their communities to be able to participate and feel included in Canada’s financial system AND contribute toward achieving their health and wellbeing, through research and social action.
We encourage you to visit the following Access Alliance pages to learn more about what this financial empowerment work looks like in action:
- Community programs – Financial Literacy including Resources: https://accessalliance.ca/programs-services/community-programs/financial-literacy/
- Settlement services: https://accessalliance.ca/programs-services/settlement-services/
- Overcoming Financial Vulnerability among Newcomers research project page: https://accessalliance.ca/research-blog/overcoming-financial-vulnerability-among-newcomers/
- Access Alliance Research and Advocacy: https://accessalliance.ca/research-advocacy/
- Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. (2021). FCAC launches Financial Literacy Month 2021. Cision. Retrieved from: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/fcac-launches-financial-literacy-month-2021-880608534.html
- Government of Canada. (2021). Financial literacy month. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/campaigns/financial-literacy-month.html
- Canada Without Poverty. (2021). Basic statistics about poverty in Canada. Retrieved from https://cwp-csp.ca/poverty/just-the-facts/
- Fung, C., Parikh, S., and Zulauf, P (Ryerson University). (2020). The crisis of affordable rental housing in Toronto. Retrieved from https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/social-innovation/Programs/Affordable_Housing_Visual_Systems_Map_Oxford.pdf
- Prosper Canada. (2021). Overview. Retrieved from https://prospercanada.org/Financial-Empowerment/Overview.aspx#:~:text=Financial%20empowerment%20is%20an%20approach,security%20of%20low%2Dincome%20people.&text=It%20increases%20their%20opportunities%20and,to%20invest%20in%20their%20future.
- O’Neill, B. (2011). Steps toward financial resilience. Retrieved from https://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/message/message.php?p=Finance&m=194