A victory against usury

The government agrees to act on payday lending.

It gives me great pleasure to say that those of us who campaign to reduce the grip that payday lenders have on the most vulnerable individuals and families in Britain have won a very important victory. The Government has agreed to provisions within the Financial Services Bill providing the newly created Financial Conduct Authority (which will come into existence 1 April 2013) with the power to cap the cost of credit agreements.

While many were understandably focusing on the Autumn Statement, it was finally agreed by the government on Wednesday that the FCA will be able to create rules that:

  • Prohibit the charging of certain types of fees which it considers to be unacceptable;
  • Prohibit the charging of costs above an amount which it specifies as unacceptable; and
  • Prohibit rollover lending, where a debtor arranges separate credit arrangements in order to settle existing ones.

One signatory to the successful amendment of the Financial Services Bill, Baroness Grey-Thompson, told me:

There are too many tragic stories of people who have got themselves in to a massive financial mess, which seems impossible to get out of. I hope that these proposals will crack down on the worst excesses of these loans. 

She continued:

Something that came up in the debate is that we need better access to loans for people, and that we should consider more credit unions. I am by no means an expert on financial matters, but it worries me that people can easily get themselves in to great financial difficulty.

Conservative MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds, while welcoming of the move forward by the government, has said that providing a cap on credit is only one part of the overall battle. A shift in direction needs to take place for credit unions too.

Commenting at Conservative Home, Hinds says:

The sector needs a sensible degree of change which maintains safeguards and comfort for customers, but allows them to get onto competition terms with payday and home credit lenders and rent-to-buy stores.

Both Baroness Grey-Thompson and Damian Hinds MP are correct – this is fantastic news. Damon Gibbons of the Centre for Responsible Credit has even called it a “historic moment”. But the fight doesn't end here. 

We must go further. We need:

  • The creation of a Community Reinvestment Act, which would oblige banks not lending sufficiently in local communities to sponsor local affordable lenders such as credit unions;
  • The reinstatement and centralisation of the social fund – something that could be operated through a credit union; and
  • Banks offering emergency overdrafts to more people without charging interest rates that rival those of payday lenders.

We have witnessed a great victory, and an actual government u-turn (I won't rub it in), but we cannot afford to be complacent. The fight against bad debt has only just begun. 

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.
 

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era