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.
 

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories