Article: My interview in ShortList magazine

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call (from France!) from a journalist called Mike Peake (bymikepeake.com) who, by the looks of things, writes some pretty interesting things for a range of publications.  Anyway, he contacted me through UpRising regarding a piece he was working on exploring the existence of a “Class Ceiling”.  I, of course, had a perspective on it and, lo and behold, it’s made into the magazine.

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Blog: My interview for The Careers Group, University of London

In my capacity as Fellow of the UpRising programme, I have recently been interviewed by the University of London Careers Group. I’m an alumnus of the University of London (undergrad and Masters both from there) an I jumped at the chance to speak about UpRising – a programme that I am incredibly proud to be associated with.

The full transcript is here: http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/blog/development/index.php/2013/02/06/the-uprising-leadership-programme/

The UpRising Leadership Programme is enabling 19-25 year olds to change their communities for the better as well as giving their CVs an edge. We spoke to Queen Mary and UpRising alumnus and Fellow, Eshaan Akbar about the impact UpRising made on him.

How did you hear about UpRising? I came across their leaflet during a brief internship for MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali. The internship was part of a process for me moving from the banking career I had gone into after my Queen Mary degree in economics,finance and management, into a more public policy oriented role. What impressed me about the programme – which Rushanara had helped create as part of The Young Foundation – was the way it combined a curriculum of support with a practical project which made a real difference in the communities participants wanted to engage with. I was particularly interested in the political context in which community change can happen and I was impressed by the fact that all three party leaders are patrons of the UpRising programme.

So what are the main elements of the programme? Well the web site gives the best summary but there are learning sessions, mentoring and networking events and a community project. The learning sessions include ‘inside view’ visits to key organisations such as parliament and the BBC, a leadership retreat (this was two days in Roffey Park – fantastic fun and transformational). The programme really helps you create far reaching networks of in myriad industries you simply aren’t aware of normally. In my banking career I had a network of high net worth celebrities who were my clients, but what I developed through UpRising was a network of purposeful and powerful individuals – powerful in the sense that they were people who were able to get things done.

What were the highlights of the programme for you? Well I was sufficiently impressed by the programme as a whole to continue to be involved as one of the selected ‘Fellows’. The programme had a really big impact. Firstly in introducing me to the whole arena of journalism. This came about from a visit to the offices of The Guardian. We were introduced to the ‘Comment Is Free’ editor who agreed to consider a piece I wrote. They then printed it which gave me the confidence to shape my UpRising project around the written word but also to develop a portfolio of articles published in newspapers like The Times, The Observer as well as The Guardian on issues like racism, economics and social issues. I’m due to do a placement at Sky News shortly and ITV news after that.

Other highlights of the programme included getting a talk on effective public speaking by Tony Blair’s speechwriter and having a roundtable discussion in The Cabinet Meeting Room with Nick Clegg The ‘Retreat’ at Roffey Park was brilliant. This centre normally charges corporate clients thousands of pounds for the weekend retreat and we got it for free. What it gave us was a brilliant developmental weekend that was both great fun and a foundation to our practical programmes – a key part of the UpRising experience. In my case I and a team of UpRisers had a project that was founded on using the power of the written word to help young people communicate issues of concern to them. The project had a strong after life and developed into the You Press initiative http://weareyoupress.blogspot.co.uk/, taken on by other members of the programme.

Is the programme hard to get on? Well, it is competitive but, on the other hand it is expanding to other cities in the UK. What they principally look for is passion and a commitment to making a difference in local communities. Just as they provide the networks for participants, it is up to participants to use these networks to better their own communities.

Article: Bailiff legislation – what a waste of time

I’ve had my experiences with bailiffs in the past and know how difficult it can be.  Upon hearing of new legislative changes though, I got frustrated at what I see as being “mask” conversations.  Bailiffs, gay marriage and our relationship with the EU are not the priority right now.  So I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post.  Enjoy:

4 January 2010 is a day I won’t forget any time soon. On the first working day of the year, I stepped out of my house at 6am and walked straight into an unmarked white van. The van was on my drive and the front of it no more than 3 steps from my door. The man sitting in the car seemed tiny, until his 6ft 5in, 300 million stone frame squeezed out and, almost Ray Winstone-like, snarled “Mr Patel. I’m here to collect £1,850 on behalf of (insert name of big bad bank here)”.

Flattered though I was at the generalisation that someone of my frame could possibly be a Mr Patel, it was a case of mistaken identity. “He doesn’t live here anymore”, I explained. “I bought the house from him 7 years ago”. The bailiff was convinced that I looked like a Mr Patel, so I should stop trying to pull the wool over his eyes, arrange immediate payment or he’ll be noting down the details of my car he intended to take as payment of this debt. Early morning commuters who had to walk around this van and my distressed mother in the house made for a somewhat difficult hour.

So it is welcome news that aggressive bailiff practices will be subject to legislative changes from next year. Among the changes, bailiffs will be prevented from using any physical contact, cannot enter homes where only children are present or set their own fees. Indeed, it is not their arms that have a crippling impact on debtors, it is their “visit charges”. The enforcement industry has called these changes a “small step forward”.

However, the changes being suggested, on the whole, aren’t really new at all. Enforcement law is notoriously complex, with powers differing on the debt in question and the types of creditors using enforcement officers. There is already some legislation in place that details what bailiffs are able to do. The proposed changes are still very light on what the industry itself is after – stronger regulation and a consistent complaints procedure. Although, limiting powers on fee charges is a very important and necessary step.

But critically, in the week Britain faced up to the prospect of a triple-dip recession, this announcement feels like a further admission that current economic policies are failing. Essentially reminding people of their rights when dealing with bailiffs, it is implicitly suggested that more people are expected to fall on hard times.

According to the Bank of England, over £3.4bn of lending to individuals was written off in the second quarter of 2010 – the highest since 2007 to date. With defaults lasting six years on credit files, consumer credit markets – and subsequently consumer consumption – is on a long and slow journey to recovery.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders reported an 18% fall in loans for house purchases and remortgages from August to September 2012 and a further 14% fall in first-time lending over the same period. Persistently difficult borrowing conditions coupled with increasing food, energy and travel prices are further putting the pinch on consumer wallets.

This depresses markets. Consumers need better education about the impact of the last few years on their credit files, managing their bills more effectively and making their money go further. Funding cuts to Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country don’t help. Increased financial prudence may be an unintended consequence for the short and medium-term economy, but with interest rates remaining low, consumers may be more willing to spend.

Personal finance experts, like Martin Lewis, the founder of moneysavingexpert.com whose financial education in schools petition gathered over 100,000 signatures and has led to its place in school curriculums from 2014, should join forces with banks and credit rating agencies to make a similar effort by entering communities and educating consumers.

It is in the consumer’s interest to know their rights when faced with bailiffs. It is in the national interest to ensure consumers can limit their exposure to bailiffs in the first place. I thought it was the national interest that brought this coalition together in the first place?