Cap the cost of credit to make life easier for those forced to turn to payday loans

Tackling the legal loan sharks.

Today, Lord Mitchell, an opposition spokesperson for Business, Innovation and Skills, will debate an amendment he has introduced to the Financial Services Bill (now in the report stage in the House of Lords) to potentially cap the total cost of credit which lenders can charge (this is different to capping interest rates in so far as interest rate caps can be sidestepped by upping other costs such as administrative fees. Total cost caps seek to address this potential loophole).

Many peers, like Lord Sugar and Baroness Thompson-Grey, the Welsh former wheelchair racer and disability campaigner, have already pledged their support for his amendment, which will give the new Financial Conduct Authority the power to apply sanctions to those who offer credit contrary to the its terms.

But it's an amendment which everyone, from all political parties, should get behind and support.

It is good for consumers

While the payday lending industry has enjoyed unprecedented growth (worth £100m in 2004, now worth over £2bn in 2012) in recent times, credit access has become tougher for consumers. Around 1.75 million UK adults go without a transactional bank account in the UK today and 9 million adults cannot access credit from mainstream banks. This spells bad news for consumers as the only option for many is expensive short-term loans. Capping the costs of credit will make borrowing less expensive for consumers, at a time when wages are stagnant and the cost of living rises.

It is good for the economy

Damon Gibbons for the Centre for Responsible Credit, in their recent report on Japan and interest rate caps, noted that, all things considered, putting a ceiling on the amount a lender can charge for a loan will make borrowing less expensive - given the rate at which over-priced short-term lending has risen over the last few years. This will have a knock-on effect on saving behaviour and investment. Reinstatement of savings initiatives like the Savings Gateway should also boost this kind of behaviour.

It doesn't contradict the Tory message

Small-c conservatives in the Tory Party have always raised concern about how financial institutions can hurt, rather than help, the finances of those most vulnerable in society. But even those of a more free market bent inside the party have started to see what a problem payday lending is. Damian Hinds MP, chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions, for example, once felt the market would drive down prices in payday lending, but has now decided that “normal market rules do not apply with payday lenders”.

It will not boost illegal money lending

Important work carried out in 2010 by Professor Dr. Udo Reifner, Sebastien Clerc-Renaud, and RA Michael, for the European Commission, found no convincing evidence to back up the argument introducing interest rate ceilings leads to a growth in illegal lending “or would force people into arrears and default on bill repayments”. In fact it is found in the same report that in spite of the fact the supply of credit in France and Germany is not as abundant as in the UK, this has not been matched by an increase in illegal lending.

A shark. Not a loan shark. Photograph: Getty Images

Carl Packman is a writer, researcher and blogger. He is the author of the forthcoming book Loan Sharks to be released by Searching Finance. He has previously published in the Guardian, Tribune Magazine, The Philosopher's Magazine and the International Journal for Žižek Studies.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.