Church needed in the vanguard of action on financial distress


Five years ago, with all the passion and clarity of a man with a cause between his teeth, Justin Welby called time on Wonga (‘War on Wonga: we’re putting you out of business, the Archbishop of Canterbury tells payday loans company,’ The Independent, 25 July 2013). His beef? A business model of that leeched low income households of vital income and saddled them with a level of debt they couldn’t hope to repay.

But while the battle of Wonga advanced – the company now has losses that mount each year – the Archbishop’s intervention only served to illuminate how deep and systemic financial exclusion and distress in the UK have become. A sense of mission might, it turned out, be enough to light a touch paper of action on this new social blight, but nothing less than a movement is needed to foster wholesale change.

The first thing to grasp about financial vulnerability is its scale. There have always been people among us who have struggled to make ends meet. However, the Financial Conduct Authority, in the largest ever survey of the nation’s financial lives, find 50% of adults to be at risk. Vulnerability means not being able to meet an increase in monthly outgoings of £50. Translated into real terms, we’re talking two or three bills falling at once, or a change within the family – like a child starting a new school. In short, this is the stuff of life, and today it’s beyond the reach of most of us.

At the same time, half of us have savings of less than £100. Are we too ready to spend when we want something, whether we have the funds or not? Undoubtedly. But for a growing number, there isn’t enough to go around to conserve the funds to pay for essentials.

Rowena Young is Executive Director of the Just Finance Foundation.

You can read the full article on The Church Times.