The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has taken on the moneylenders, telling a payday lender he wants to “compete” it out of existence.
This makes him the first prelate in 400 years to publicly denounce usury and it’s a brave action, but I’m not holding my breath for progress.
He’s up against Government indifference. Successive governments have refused to cap interest rates, allowing usurers to charge whatever they like to people in desperate need of cash, on the grounds that the Government should not interfere in the workings of free markets.
There’s nothing free about having your blood drained by a loan shark.
Governments also allege capping official rates would lead to the growth of illegal money lending. If charging extortionate rates of interest isn’t already illegal, it jolly well should be. It already is in many other countries and in places with an interest rate cap of 20%, such as Germany, there is no evidence of a rise in illegal lending.
I have seen the effect spiralling debt has on vulnerable families. It drives them to the edge of despair and sometimes over that edge.
When the Blair government came into power, I told one of their advisers that giving credit unions a wodge of cash would do wonders for impoverished communities. He told me they had every intention of doing just that but they did nothing, like governments before and since.
Listening to Roy Hattersley pontificating on the evils of usury on the BBC’s Any Questions when he did nothing about it while in power was irritating.
So, more power to the Archbishop’s elbow, but, as I said, don’t hold your breath.
:: The NHS is no longer the romantic dream of Danny Boyle’s Olympic ceremony. It’s a place where nurses are sometimes cruel and foul-mouthed, as instanced by a recent tribunal, and some hospitals are dangerous places in which to be ill, according to a report by surgeons working in them.
Listening to horror stories day after day, it’s easy to believe that the giant edifice we have worshipped for so long is crumbling before our eyes.
In fact, the NHS is still a place of excellence, manned by men and women, most of whom care deeply and exhibit a stunning level of expertise. But they’re human.
They sometimes make mistakes or cease to care. Some of them are not up to the job and some of them are obsessed with ticking boxes to the exclusion of every other consideration. Hopefully, we have reached a watershed.
We now see the NHS for what it is, an institution which occasionally gets it wrong, but is more often wonderfully successful.
We must continue to cherish it, but the days when we could leave it to police itself are gone.
:: Recent claims from Europhiles suggest that leaving the European Union would lead to job losses. That may be true, but there’s another side to the picture.
Production of the Transit van is moving to Turkey with the help of an EU grant, to which Britain will have contributed. A total of 531 employees are affected by the closure of the plant in Southampton with a further 750 jobs hit by the axe falling on a tool and stamping operation at Dagenham.
In addition, a Brussels scheme is offering thousands of young people payments to take a job in Britain. The UK provides about 13% of the scheme’s budget.
The joint initiative between British JobCentres and the European Commission offers £870 for every EU citizen employed by a UK firm and a grant of £260 for applicants to travel to Britain for an interview.
All this in a country which already has a huge youth unemployment problem.
Employers can recruit up to 20 foreign workers a year through the EU scheme. The scheme is open to all EU nationals aged 18 to 30 and could attract thousands of youngsters to Britain from European countries which have unemployment rates up to three times as high as the UK’s.
These incentives come at a time when more than half of vacancies in the UK are filled by foreigners. More than 800,000 UK jobs were reportedly being advertised through the scheme at one stage, more than half the total across Europe.
An EU spokesman stressed that British youngsters were able to use the scheme to access jobs elsewhere in Europe but, in contrast with Britain, France is advertising 48,330 vacancies, Italy 12,193 and Denmark just 197 so not much chance there.
We may lose some jobs if we quit, but would this be compensated by an end to the influx of jobseekers from Europe?