Seema Malhotra is the MP for Feltham and Heston. With the increase in unemployment during Covid-19, we had the chance to conduct a follow-up interview with Seema Malhotra, after a year, to find out how she is trying to assist our community and ways that Thamesbank Credit Union could be helpful for our local community during these difficult times.

In light of the increase in unemployment in 2021, how are you assisting people in our community who are struggling to find employment?

It has been absolutely devastating for our community. Our community is an aviation community. By that we mean it’s a community that has a lot of dependence on the airport. That is our neighbour. With all the downsides that the airport can bring, it does bring huge employment and the loss of that employment due to the slowdown has hit our area. This includes Hounslow, Hillingdon, Ealing, and the areas around us. Not only has it hit employment, but it’s also hit the success and the growth of our small businesses as well. It’s the reason why I called for a lot of action earlier on as I work very closely with our local authorities. I also work very closely with the West London Business with Heathrow. Early last summer, we held workshops on green skills and other ways in which we needed to upskill our community for recovery. This was with our local education, our further education, and our universities like Brunel.

The biggest message that I gave last April was that we needed to be ahead of the curve. I wrote articles on this and even called for this in Parliament. The employment rise was going to come. What did we have in place in terms of support, training, retraining for our workforce and our residents? And how are we going to work with employers to build an employer-to employer-bridge? The reasoning behind the latter issue was that if people were leaving one employer and other employees were recruiting that we were making that pathway smooth and we were making it fast. This work is still ongoing and I am proud that in the last 7-8 months, I’ve been working with Unite the Union where we have launched a new learning hub, online courses on employability that is free for all. In the community, whether you’re a Union member or you’re not, that work is now being embedded in the work of the local authority. By working with the Job Centre as well, we want them to say, how are you supporting those who have lost their jobs? How are you building in these opportunities? We want to make sure that the message is reaching.

In addition, we know that women and ethnic minorities have been hit hard by the loss of income and loss of their jobs. Young people have also been the worst hit. The youngest has been taking about 50% of the job losses. Now we’re seeing that the older community, 50 plus, are also seeing a rise in job losses. So, I’m now working closely with agencies like the Youth Employment Group and Centre for Ageing Better. On the best advice for the training and support that can be given, I’m working directly with around 70 employers around Heathrow on how they’ve had to work with their unions.

Now, I keep in close contact with them, I advocate for them in speeches and letters to our government to call for more support for aviation and our jobs. Most recently, just a week before Easter. I’m doing this because our community will succeed, and it will grow, and the jobs will come back because of the work our local authorities in their recovery plans and the businesses are doing only by working together. However, to achieve this goal, they need the funding from government, and even more so because our area has been hit hard. I’m going to continue working closely. In fact, just today, the day of the interview, I visited Adult Education Centre in Cranford where new facilities have been built. we’re going to deliver support and training for families as well. This is because when families do well when they’ve got the income, children are doing well and it’s better for our mental health as well. We won’t stop until everyone is back in the work that they need and the work they can do. There is a club called the Unite Learning Hub at Heathrow which is open to all and where you can do a learning survey. we’ve built in this learning survey so if there isn’t a course for what you want to do then others might be in that same boat and you’re able to fill out that. I would like to learn this and work. We’re working with providers to try and put on courses that people want and with a particular focus with Unite, the Union on jobs in and around aviation and weather reskilling can come for where the new jobs are also going to be growing.

Thamesbank has introduced a New Key Worker loan during the pandemic to help key workers who are struggling with their finances by introducing a low-interest rate loan of 0.5% (6.3% APR) for borrowing up to £1000 for up to five years. Are there any other ways you believe Thamesbank credit union or other credit unions could assist our local communities?

First, let me say ‘We know that it was. I’ve said this before, but it was so great to see the growing membership last year. I want to work with you, and I want to work with Thamesbank Credit Union to see us increase that membership even further because there has never been more of a time that I know. With the drop in income that we’ve seen with the fact that we have 38,000 people in Hounslow on Universal Credit that Thamesbank could be a lifeline and is a lifeline for so many families. This introduction of lower rates, for key workers as well demonstrated to me so much about how the credit union is led by its values and really in tune with the local community. In fact, just today, I was talking to people in the GP surgery where I took my mum for her second jab, and in the Heart of Hounslow, to see all our key workers and others coming together with such love and dedication. And yet we know that for many, and especially in our careers and in part-time working in public services that were families that might have seen as someone out of work or needing to drop hours because they need to look after the kids, whatever it might be that is causing a massive strain. I’ve seen it as well in their rise in the food banks. I work with them every week as well to make sure that they’ve got the fresh fruit and veg they need. Therefore, we have a small team that supplements all the other donations. But I’m so pleased that you surveyed members last year because of the one thing that’s wonderful about Thamesbank and how you follow those International Cooperative Alliance values and principles. and you do what we need to do everywhere, you make sure the views of members are used and heard in shaping the way Thamesbank is run and the different products that they have on offer.

That’s why I’d like to see more people join and benefit from the Thamesbank Credit Union community. My view as well is that we’ve got a lot of work to do together.

I sit on the Financial Inclusion Commission working with experts in academia. A lot of our institutions like money and pension service in other institutions as well. Toynbee Hall, those who run some of the national helplines and support as well the thing we have seen and analysed is how much the pandemic has hit people harder. But what’s also come through is how communities are so important in helping lead that response and those are the solutions that I want to see Thamesbank be much more embedded and part of to tackle financial exclusion in our community. That means being part of the work that the local authorities are doing being a key player, and I very much look forward to working with you to do that more and to grow on the success that we’ve had helping reach out and increase the scale. This is vital, and as I’ve worked with other credit unions, I see the potential for Thamesbank. I also want to say this: people who want to get onto the housing ladder. Whether that’s true, shared ownership or other means to find ways in which we might work with the mortgage lenders and others. To help people to move on in homes and to have the homes they need for their families. You know how strong our communities are when families have got homes that they feel at peace in and that you know can meet the needs of their families. I think Thamesbank is absolutely a key part of that.

I would like to really thank you and congratulate Thamesbank, I know Mukesh and the trustees. All of you who are helping with Thamesbank it is so close to me and my heart. I’m a Labour, and Co-op MP because I believe so much in cooperative values and principles. I’m inspired by what you do and I want to you know that I want to work with you on how we can increase the support and the services for local people.