& Benefits Campaign
- Sept 1999
Government Shows Vision on LETS
relevant Government Ministers and Tony Blair himself are all
now on record as endorsing the benefits of LETS as grassroots
to Angela Eagle MP, the new Social Security Minister, "broad
enthusiasm" now exists throughout the government for amending
the benefits regulations so that LETS units earned will not
impact on benefits.
changes are now favoured without pilot schemes, which take
time and can be unrepresentative.
THE LETS RECEPTION AT THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
PRESS: At little more than a week's
notice of the Westminster Reception for the LETS
and Benefits Campaign, the 90-plus full house
turnout (and as many again supporters keen to
attend after all the available space had been
filled to overflowing) testified to the strong
support there is among LETS groups and others
for changing the benefits regulations.
UK are working up the details of the proposed new rules with
the DSS officials concerned.
the combined new policy recommendations have the final go-ahead
from Government and come into effect, the DSS are following
up LETSLINK UK's request for a "hands-off LETS" memo to be
sent to local benefits agencies.
Government is also asking LETSLINK UK to recommend ways in
which LETS schemes can be further encouraged without the risk
of dominating or supplanting the 'bottom-up' approach.
encouraging recognition of the issues came from the Employment
Minister, Andrew Smith MP. He told Liz Shephard of LETSLINK
UK: "We are most keen to learn direct from communities and
the grassroots themselves, not from academics. Piecemeal schemes
and leadership from outside, clearly do not work."
Blair's Social Exclusion Unit had already put LETS at the
top of the agenda in its major report on community economic
renewal, Bringing Britain Together.
UK has been invited to contribute "imaginative but practical"
recommendations for encouraging LETS by July, to go into the
overall Report from the Unit which will be published in December.
Employment Minister and DSS also showed they saw LETS as a
means to empowerment and would not judge it on the number
of people it helped into paid jobs. Confidence building and
skills developed on LETS are to be regarded in themselves
new all-party group of MPs to support LETS has now been formed
by Linda Gilroy MP, the initiator and champion of the LETS
cause in Parliament, with the backing of the Cooperative Party.
Linda's latest move with the group has been to table an Early
Day Motion (EDM), 'LETS and Social Inclusion', which MPs can
sign up to from now to July.
is also applying for a 90-minute Adjournment Debate on LETS
in the House of Commons, again drawing on LETSLINK UK as the
principle source of knowledge.
The Adjournment Debate could
be held at any time between now and July (2000), when a major
presentation on LETS will also be held in the House. When
the dates are fixed more information on all these events will
be available from LETSLINK.
Interview with Liz Shephard on the issues for LETS Groups
Historically, the level of trust between grassroots movements
like LETS and and Governments has not been high. LETS members
may have traditionally perceived government as a threat, both
to their benefits and to the planet, while Government may
have been suspicious of LETS on tax and benefits issues. How
is it possible to overcome this lack of trust?
As far as most LETS groups are concerned, that hasn't
been true. For example, surveys showed an overwhelming majority
of LETS in favour of working with local government. People
know LETS cannot grow further without a change in the benefits
regulations. LETS has been growing up, coming in from the
margins and taking responsibility in the community.
the government viewpoint, LETS is seen as offering the potential
to help people and communities out of economic or social isolation
and community breakdown. LETS was welcomed first by local
and then national anti-poverty and community development organisations,
and by allied workers in local government. National government
now wants to support LETS, but clearly without imposing on
it; indeed the civil servants themselves raised the question
of exactly what kind of government support could help LETS
without undermining it. The reason for this enlightened view
is that many of the most influential people now in government
came from the voluntary and community sectors, and were very
much rooted in these issues.
From what you say, it seems that Government would like to
see LETS playing a much wider socio-economic role than it
does now. Are LETS groups, really ready and willing to take
on a more serious role?
LETS are not expected to take on more than they can
or would wish to; in any case, each group is different. Rather
I think people need to grasp this as genuine encouragement
to get out there and create whatever it is they always wanted
in LETS. I hope they will see this as an opportunity to ditch
traditional fears and branch out.
groups have already demonstrated their own social spirit and
desire to improve life through all kinds of community self-help
projects in LETS, tackling issues such as health, parenting,
education, disability, and many others. Others simply want
LETS for new kinds of friendship, support and fun, or to act
like extended families. It is important that this diversity
is kept, and the flexibility people value. But if there is
value in LETS, more people should have access to it. So I
see a range of different initiatives, some coming from existing
LETS groups, others from local agencies who want to start
situations of pressing economic or social need, the local
knowledge and hands-on experience of LETS could be invaluable
in helping local communities. Under such circumstances the
printing of local notes would make it easier to scale up quickly,
helping in the task of bringing more local businesses and
voluntary organisations into the trading network.