Thursday, 3 February 2011

Poverty, the Credit Trap and Legal Loan Sharks

Church Action on Poverty (CAP) launched its Close the Gap campaign on Monday 31 Jan. Running for three years, this campaign is calling on participants to Give, Act and Pray, to bring about a more equal society.

Representatives of churches and charities involved in Close the Gap delivered CAP’s new report based on a survey of local Christians’ concerns to 10 Downing Street, as well as over 1500 postcards capturing respondents’ messages for the Prime Minister on poverty and social justice, collected by CAP, and by the Joint Public Issues Team at Greenbelt 2010. The Methodist Church was represented by current Youth President Christy-Anna Errington and President Designate of Conference Leo Osborn (second from right and far right in the front row) and the Baptist Union by Sivakumar Rajagopalan, Regional Minister (Racial Justice) at the London Baptist Association.

One of the first calls to action was to email MPs and invite them to participate in this morning’s parliamentary debate on credit, one of two significant debates on debt and lending that took place in Parliament this morning. Labour MP Stella Creasy (pictured) and Conservative Justin Tomlinson are initiating the discussion of Consumer Credit Regulation in the Commons. In the Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark raises the question of interest charged by loan and credit companies.

Unusually for an industrialised economy, the UK sets no legal limit to the total cost of credit. In the wake of the Government’s spending cuts, there is widespread concern that increasing poverty may lead the vulnerable into an ever greater spiral of borrowing and unsustainable debt, and tempt lenders to exploit the increasing need for funds.

The Methodist Church has urged all MP’s to turn up and support Thursday’s motion to cap the cost of credit to consumers. Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the Methodist Conference, said: “One phone app offers to pay an urgent heating bill within the hour at a rate of 4214% APR. We have welcomed government proposals to regulate “excessive” store card interest rates, which David Cameron estimated would be any charging around 25% and over. It would be ludicrous and unfair to call 25% ‘excessive’ for one set of customers while allowing more vulnerable customers to pay 4214%.”

Deacon Eunice Attwood, Vice President of the Methodist Conference has also said “Working in Newcastle I have seen the damage debt and especially debt at high interest rates can do. The sight of people legally exploiting vulnerable families year after year, cannot be allowed to go on”.