On 1st May 2019 the House of Lords debated a Motion from Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, “That this House takes note of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 (Naming and Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/383).” The Archbishop of York, Most Revd John Sentamu, spoke in the debate:
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I want to support the main thrust of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about debt. Julia Unwin, who was chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, did a big research project on why people were going to Wonga. They went to Wonga because it asked no questions; people knew they could get their payday loan. Other lenders asked more questions and were far more intrusive and credit was not readily available. Noble Lords know that my archiepiscopal colleague, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that he intended not only to reform Wonga but to do away with it, and we know what has happened to Wonga.
Credit unions have been set up, which the most reverend Primate and I support. However, people still find it hard to get credit easily and the organisations responsible have caused a lot of people to go deeper and deeper into debt. When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple suggested that interest rates should be set only by the Bank of England, and not by credit companies, because the Bank of England is accountable to Parliament, which can ask it questions. Noble Lords know what happened with subprime mortgages, with debt being put into little parcels and sent all over the globe until eventually there was no money anywhere. We all know what happened in 2008 with the credit crunch, which was caused purely by excessive debt.
I welcome the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is right that education about the dangers of debt should start at a young age. Nevertheless, in the meantime, is there a way for those who genuinely find themselves in real trouble to get support and help in a similar way to how food banks work? A lot of people have found that their money is sometimes not enough to meet their needs and so they have gone to food banks. The good thing about food banks is that they do not give food all the time. People know when to collect it and when they last collected it. This has become a marvellous way of taking people out of great debt.
Will the issues raised in the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 and by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, be taken seriously by all of us and particularly by the Government? It is their responsibility to provide the guidance required to ensure that Wonga—this payday lending stuff—will not be resurrected and that the people who genuinely need credit can get it in a sensible way. I am very glad that the Government are trying to say that we should be responsible citizens, not only for pensions but for the whole question of social care, with people beginning to put a little money aside for their social care.
It sounds a bit simplistic, but could we not create some sort of food bank-type arrangement? This would help ensure that people on low incomes do not find themselves borrowing from places that will demand more and more money. Noble Lords know what happened with people being given interest; banks also behaved very badly. In a wonderful economy such as this, could some thought be given to ensure that those who are really up against it do not get into greater and greater debt? They may find that their houses are repossessed or their goods taken away and this again throws them back to bad lenders. They find themselves in a cycle of bad debt, which goes through the family for years. If I took your Lordships around Middlesbrough, you would realise that unless you actually tackle debt, some children are condemned to it and, even if we educate them properly, this will not bite.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Buscombe) (Con)...I want to add something on what was referenced by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who spoke so passionately about debt. I could not agree more with him on every point he raised. One great thing we are doing with pensions, for example, is auto-enrolment, which I am proud to say is making a huge difference in raising people’s awareness and their understanding of pensions. Over 10 million people have enrolled since 2015, which of course includes a lot of young people, so we are really pleased with that progress. It is helping people to understand the importance of saving for the longer term and there has been such a positive response.
Another very important point raised by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York was about education. I particularly remember that we debated this at great length during the passage of the Bill and it is so important. MAPS is committed to improving the level of financial capability for all. It will be working on its national strategy to improve financial education for children and young people. MAPS is in the process of consulting on the development of a national strategy in this regard. I am really pleased to report that because, as some of us—certainly myself—might say, if only I had better understood the issues in relation to pensions when I was younger, I might be in a better place in that regard now…
…The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York made an important point about exploitative lenders. While this is a matter for the Treasury, I can say that MAPS has ambitious plans to help people make informed decisions about their money—an app has been suggested. We are looking for ways to include this in the issues to do with Breathing Space. As I said, the Government will take forward plans on this in due course…
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