Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Barclaycard invests £3m to aid poor single parents

Partnership with four charities will manage a project to provide advice to those in financial hardship, writes Anita Pati.

Barclaycard has linked with four charities to launch a scheme to help disadvantaged lone parents overcome debt.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, launched the anti-poverty scheme Horizons: Your Family, Your Future last week. The credit card giant's four partners - One Parent Families, Citizens Advice, Parentline Plus and the Family Welfare Association - will share an investment of £3m until 2007 in a programme that aims to reach 50,000 families across the UK.

The Government's financial exclusion strategy, which was published with the Pre-Budget Report, promised an expansion in the provision of financial advice. Research by One Parent Families has shown that 48 per cent of lone parents reported debt as an issue, with one-third experiencing a significant amount of financial hardship. The charity identified debt advice as an unmet need.

Mark Gonnella, consumer affairs director at Barclaycard, said the scheme was a logical step in the company's efforts to be a responsible business.

"Barclaycard came up with the idea because we were very keen to link our community activity directly back to any impact or perceived impact we have on the wider world," he said.

"From all the research we've done, we feel that the real thing to do is to line up your activity in the community as closely as possible to the impact you have.

"Debt and money management are clearly issues that are linked to our business, so this is the logical place for us to go. Our key requirement is responsible lending."

The plan is for the five partners to transfer skills across the network and to cross-refer clients to partner charities where appropriate.

All five partners have senior representatives on a steering committee that will decide policy.

The four main strands to be addressed are: advice and information on debt; funding for school essentials such as school uniforms and trips; adult education and training; and a back-to-work programme.

Chris Pond, chief executive of One Parent Families, is enthusiastic about the combined benefits that this CSR approach will allow.

"We're trying to encourage a number of corporations to take this approach," he said. "We all bring different skills to this project. Ours is mainly in the field of employability, Citizens Advice's is in debt counselling, FWA's is in social support, and Parentline Plus's is in a range of parenting issues.

"It's a very important step forward, and shows that the voluntary sector can work in partnership with the private sector."

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