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Money management & debt advice project

Evidence type: Evaluation i

Description of the programme

[This is an extract from the Executive Summary of the evaluation report. Further amendments may be made to this Summary, pending review by the Evidence Hub partner]

Financial exclusion – the inability to access affordable and appropriate financial services – is a pressing and persistent issue for low-income households across the UK. Affected households often pay more for services and are at greater risk of over-indebtedness. Financial exclusion is particularly prevalent among women in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Women often enter the criminal justice system through committing acquisitive crimes and are often in debt. Many women have experienced financial difficulties compounded by long-term poverty, family commitments, disrupted access to benefits, high cost credit, coercive and abusive partners and poor financial literacy.[1]

In response to this, Salford Foundation ran an 18-month project (September 2017 – March 2019) funded by the Money Advice Service’s (MAS) ‘What Works Fund’ to improve the financial capability of vulnerable women in the CJS or at risk of offending. This involved delivering group and individual financial capability and debt advice sessions to women in ten gender-specific criminal justice centres (called Women’s Centres) in Greater Manchester. The project delivered 45 group sessions attended by 195 women and one-to-one sessions with 95 women. Included in those figures are 25 women who attended both one-to-ones and the groups.

The study

The University of Salford evaluated 1) whether the project met its outcome targets relating to improving knowledge and skills, behaviour and motivation, and financial resilience among the women; 2) the impact of the project on women offenders or those at risk of offending; and 3) the effectiveness of the project in delivering relevant financial education at an appropriate level for the target group of women. The evaluators drew on the following methods and sources of information:

  • Pre and post-intervention questionnaires of eighteen participants;
  • Semi-structured interviews with ten participants, seven Women’s Centre staff and eight project staff;
  • Project monitoring data and documentation.

Key findings

Outcome evaluation:

The findings from this evaluation suggest that the project improved the participants’ financial knowledge, skills and confidence in certain areas but not in others. We found limited evidence indicating behaviour change as a result of the training:

  • Knowledge and skills: Several participants reported an improved ability to budget, check benefit entitlement, work out priority bills and seek advice. Some women reported greater confidence in budgeting in the qualitative interviews. However, participants did not think they were more likely to seek advice because of the training. This may, according to staff interviewed, be explained by the women’s distrust of organisations outside of Women’s Centres.
  • Behaviour and motivation: Several participants reported improved confidence managing their day-to-day finances, but there was no improvement in propensity to budget. In the qualitative interviews, many women mentioned changing their shopping habits, including switching to supermarket own brands and planning the shopping trip. There was no change in planning ahead or financial worry or anxiety.
  • Financial resilience: We could not find any evidence to suggest improvements in how well the participants were managing financially, propensity to save or not falling behind on bills and payments.

Process evaluation:

Vulnerable women in CJS or at risk of offending have multiple and complex issues (e.g. mental health issues, domestic abuse), chaotic lives, learning difficulties, are averse to engaging with services outside of the participating Women’s Centres and do not necessarily see improving money management or long-term resilience as a priority. This resulted in challenges in recruiting and retaining participants, especially for group sessions, which Salford Foundation overcame, recruiting nearly 200 women for the group sessions.

The evaluation found that the following features worked well in recruiting these women to the group sessions:

  • When the trainers built rapport and trust with the women by meeting and talking with them at the Women’s Centres, Salford Foundation found that they were more likely to attend. They often distrust services external to the Women’s Centres.
  • The women were more likely to attend if they were reminded several times ahead of the session. Otherwise they would often forget.
  • The active involvement of the local delivery partners, the Women’s Centres, in terms of promoting the project and referring women to the sessions, reportedly improved recruitment.
  • It was easier to recruit women to the group and 1:1 sessions if the women could attend immediately rather than having to commit to attend a future session. Therefore, delivering to established groups, including informal but regular social gatherings (e.g. coffee mornings etc.) worked well.

The findings suggest there are three elements that worked well in delivering financial capability group sessions to women in this target group:

  • They responded well to informal and interactive delivery, including games and interaction with other participants. They found presentations and activities involving reading and writing less engaging.
  • They were also more likely to engage if they could apply the techniques and lessons immediately, for example by applying the lessons in their weekly food shop. The blind tasting of well-known brand and supermarket own brand products followed by a discussion of how much money they could save by switching to own brand products appeared to make an impression on the participants. They were often surprised they could not taste the difference and how much they could save by switching to supermarket own-brand products.
  • The women were apprehensive about having to commit to attending numerous sessions and instead preferred one-off sessions. As a result, Salford Foundation changed from delivering a four-week set of sessions to a one-off session.

Points to consider

  • Due to low response rates, the sample of participants that have filled in both the pre and post-questionnaire is very small. This limits the ability to draw decisive conclusions about the impacts on financial capability and wellbeing. Findings should be interpreted with caution
  • The lack of a control group or randomised trial design makes it difficult to state with certainty if the observable changes are due to the intervention.

This means that we cannot say if similar projects aimed at comparable target groups would produce similar outcomes. However, the process evaluation contains important lessons relevant for delivering financial capability interventions more generally.

Key info

Client group
Activities and setting
Group and individual financial capability and debt advice sessions to women in ten gender-specific criminal justice centres.
Programme delivered by
Salford Foundation
Year of publication
Contact information

Salford Foundation - Vik Pal