UK LETS and Complementary Currencies
Development Agency


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LETS & Benefits Campaign - Sept 1999
Government Shows Vision on LETS

The relevant Government Ministers and Tony Blair himself are all now on record as endorsing the benefits of LETS as grassroots community-based initiatives.

     According 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.

     Rule changes are now favoured without pilot schemes, which take time and can be unrepresentative.
Monday 14th June

STOP 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.

     LETSLINK UK are working up the details of the proposed new rules with the DSS officials concerned.

     Until 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.

     The 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.

     An 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."

     Tony 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.

     LETSLINK 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.

     The 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 as worthwhile.

     A 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.

     She 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.


An Interview with Liz Shephard on the issues for LETS Groups

Q: 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?

A: 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.

      From 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

      Many 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 their own.

      In 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.

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