Bernard Trafford: While children save pennies, reckless bankers get away scot-free

Journal columnist and Newcastle headteacher Bernard Trafford says credit unions in primary schools are missing the bigger point

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

Now, children. Here’s another new lesson for you. Your mummies and daddies are useless at teaching you about healthy eating, obesity, smoking, drugs, alcohol, sex, and extremism. The government’s no help either: so it says your teachers must tell you all about those things so you don’t grow up into fat, drugged-up, drunken, murderous sex-maniacs with heart disease.

“Neither those nice people in Parliament nor your mummies and daddies have a clue about managing money either, so the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked his schools to teach you about that too. Won’t that be lovely?”

Excuse the Joyce Grenfell bit. Justin Welby vowed on his appointment as Archbishop to put payday lenders out of business by competing with them, forming credit unions in Anglican churches. People are encouraged to save and borrow in small, structured, protected ways with no rip-offs: it’s proper, moral social enterprise, balancing good sense with Christian care for one’s fellow human beings.

This scheme is designed to help the poor, the struggling, those who so easily and too frequently fall prey to the payday lenders (who have finally had their wings clipped by government) or, worse, the unlicensed loan sharks into whose hands they too easily tumble.

The move gives rise to enjoyable headlines. “Jesus saves and so will children”, proclaimed The Times. It reminded me of the old 1980s joke strapline: Jesus saves - and Keegan puts it in on the rebound.

Welby’s idea has now been extended to children: credit unions are operating in a few primary schools. The intention is to set up a pilot of 100 primary schools. If that proves successful, the scheme could be rolled out across England, not least because a quarter of all primaries are church schools.

It’s about education. The primary school credit union is just one way of teaching kids that, if they take care of the pennies, the pounds will come of themselves. Many a mickle maks a muckle, as they say a little north of here.

Like motherhood and apple-pie, this junior saving scheme’s hard to argue against. It is the children’s own money, and it accumulates. But it’s not real life. They’re not required out of a limited income to put money aside for electricity or gas: to fund and control their mobile phone bill; to plan buying nutritious but inexpensive food rather than cheap and unhealthy or organic and overpriced, for example.

I’m not against this plan: I just don’t believe it will change our nation or even its attitude towards money. The realities of earning, of unemployment, of tax, rent and interest on loans are harsh things which we can’t (and shouldn’t) replicate for children.

I was only half-listening to the radio when the credit union news was announced. Mrs Trafford and I looked at each other, and knew we were thinking the same thing.

“It’s all very well to talk about teaching children to handle money,” she commented sagely. “But when will anyone persuade the bankers to behave honestly or politicians to manage the nation’s finances sensibly?”

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said this week that bankers who misbehave shouldn’t just lose their bonuses: money should be clawed back from their pay.

Is that all? How can major banks be found guilty of illegally fixing the LIBOR rate, paying massive fines to government (a nice earner for it, by the way), but none of the fiddlers face criminal charges? It was daylight (well, overnight) robbery. It’s clear the money-cowboys think themselves immune from regulation (let alone from common decency and honesty): notwithstanding the LIBOR scandal traders blithely carried on rigging the foreign exchange market.

Politicians fiddle while the money burns: David Cameron predicts another global meltdown; testosterone-fuelled bankers and traders get off scot-free; and Joe Public, I guess, will pick up the pieces once more.

If I were the archbishop, I’d keep praying hard.


  • Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.


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