Can Wonga lecture on responsible finance?
And more importantly, would you let them do so to your children?
In the 12 months ending in Q3 of 2011, 1 in 364 people became insolvent. To put that into context, the average in the past 25 years was 1 in 1,655.
This is how Conservative MPs Andrew Percy MP and Justin Tomlinson MP chose to open their report on financial education in schools (found on this website), and apt I think it is too, because shocking figures like this ought to move the government to doing something about the deficit of this type of education today.
It has cross-party appeal. When I spoke to Ian Murray MP, the Shadow Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer & Postal Affairs, he agreed that in order to make effective changes to credit and debt issues today, we have to go "right back to the start".
Financial education in schools, he said, should be perceived much like the obligation to deliver sex education:
Where there is better sex education in schools there is less teenage pregnancies. The same with financial education – where there is better exposure to this, earlier on, it should follow that there are fewer problems later on.
It is certainly not before time. When I spoke to Rod McKee, the Head of Financial Capability at ifs School of Finance, he told me:
When I visited a school in Hackney earlier this year, when we set the students a task of researching financial terms on the internet the only one they didn’t need to look up was loan shark! I do not know if this was because of what they see on television or from local knowledge, although my impression was it was the latter.
Derek Twigg MP went a stage further, agreeing that financial education needn’t be limited to school-aged people alone:
Further education colleges should open up more financial education courses for adults. These could be linked up to crisis support by a local authority for when someone approaches a council debt advice service or their MP.
Twigg suggested that there could even be a levy on banks to fund the courses – part of a bank's commitment to outreach and financial education.
I think this would suit public sentiment. Rather than banks themselves delivering what they perceive to be good financial advice and support for youngsters, they be obliged to fund rigorous educational materials, taught by the likes of Rod McKee – whose school is currently the only specialist provider of GCSE, AS and A level equivalent qualifications in personal finance and financial studies - to get a balanced view.
And if I’m correct in thinking this is the public sentiment, I would like to see the response by parents if they were to find out that Wonga, the online payday lender, were delivering financial literacy skills for school children – as their chief executive Errol Damelin has recently made plans to do.
As part of their charm offensive – which has also seen a controversial partnership between them and Medway Citizens' Advice Bureau to survey those at risk of spiralling debt – Wonga intend to do something they describe as "innovative and educational in a digital capacity" that will help "kids … to know what all the credit alternatives are".
As pointed out on this site last month, Wonga find it difficult to maintain the fabrication that they are just lending short-term loans out to "web-savvy young professionals" – for this reason, allowing them to be trusted with creating a balanced financial education for children should stick in the throats of any parent.
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