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Money management and debt advice – external evaluation

Evidence type: Evaluation i

Description of the programme

Salford Foundation ran an 18-month project from September 2017 to March 2019 aiming to improve the financial capability of women in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) or those who were at risk of offending. The programme was funded by the Money and Pension Service’s ‘What Works Fund’. The programme involved delivering both group and individual financial capability and debt advice sessions to women in ten gender-specific criminal justice centres (‘Women’s Centres) in Greater Manchester. The project delivered 45 group sessions attended by a total of 170 women as well as individual sessions with 70 women. A further 25 women took part in both the individual and the group sessions. The group sessions comprised one four-hour workshop, with the focus on understanding cash, making savings and prioritising payments. Individual sessions consisted of three one-hour appointments, with time devoted to building trust and gathering background information, as well as delivering more tailored financial advice.

The study

This 2019 evaluation from the University of Salford’s Community Finance Solutions research unit aimed to:

  1. Assess whether the project met its targets relating to improved financial behaviours, knowledge, skills, and resilience;
  2. Measure the impact of the project on women offenders or those at risk of offending;
  3. Consider the effectiveness of the project in delivering relevant financial education at an appropriate level for the target group.

The evaluation team used a mixed-methods approach drawing on the following sources of information:

  • Pre- and post-intervention surveys with 18 participants (though 123 baseline surveys were completed).
  • Semi-structured interviews with ten participants, seven Women’s Centre staff and eight project staff.
  • Project monitoring data and documentation.

While some of the follow-up surveys were incentivised with shopping vouchers, the low survey response rate was attributed to a variety of factors including literacy issues, the withholding of consent, not handing in the questionnaires, difficulty recontacting participants and a lack of willingness to engage in the research.

Key findings

Outcome evaluation

  • The overall findings suggested that the project improved the participant’s financial knowledge, skills and confidence in some of ways, but there was limited evidence of behavioural change as a result of the intervention.
  • Several participants reported an improved ability to budget, check their benefit entitlements, work out which bills were a priority and seek financial advice.
    • Most of the women (15) stated they could work out their priority bills after the programme, compared to just three women prior to the intervention.
  • However, participants did not think they were more likely to seek advice because of the workshops. The Women’s Centre staff suggested this could be due to a distrust of external organisations.
  • Several participants reported improved confidence managing their day-to-day finances, but there was no increase in the propensity to budget.
  • There was no change in planning ahead or financial stress and anxiety, while no evidence was found of improved financial resilience.
  • The authors conclude that a more holistic approach is needed, with interventions addressing other areas of the participants’ lives, including domestic violence, learning difficulties and mental health problems.

Process evaluation

  • The women were more likely to attend the sessions if there were several reminders, and if an effort had been made to build rapport at the centres before the intervention.
  • The active involvement of the Women’s Centre’s was helpful in driving recruitment.
  • The participants responded well to informal and interactive activity, including games and interaction with other participants, while they found the more formal presentations less engaging.
  • Potential participants were more likely to engage if they could apply their lessons immediately, applying their lessons to the weekly food shop for example.
  • The women preferred the one-off sessions as they were anxious about having to commit to future sessions. As a result of this Salford Foundation deviated from the initial plan of a four-week set of sessions to a one-off workshop.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: The lack of survey data from a control group makes it difficult to state with certainty if the observable changes are due to the intervention.
  • There was a very small number of participants who completed the post-intervention survey. As the authors acknowledge, this limits the ability to draw decisive conclusions about the impacts of the programme on financial capability. The results do therefore have to be treated with caution.
  • The authors state that due to learning difficulties, many of the women were not able to fully articulate or express their financial difficulties. They suggest an ethnographic, participant observation-based exercise may have helped to resolve this issue.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: The evaluation is of general interest to those delivering financial capability interventions, and of significant interest to those looking to fund and/or develop financial capability programmes for people in the Criminal Justice System, particularly programmes aimed at women.
  • Relevance: The intervention took place in Greater Manchester, so findings do not necessarily represent the rest of the UK.

Key info

Client group
Activities and setting
A mixture of group and individual workshops to increase the financial capability of women in the criminal justice system. The intervention ran between 2017-2019, with 265 participants across 10 gender-specific criminal justice centres.
Programme delivered by
Salford Foundation
Year of publication
Contact information

Dr Pål Vik and Joanna Curtis

Community Finance Solutions, University of Salford

Dr Kelly Lockwood

School of Health & Society, University of Salford

Salford Community Finance Solutions