Shark attack

A Newsnight story about illegal loan sharks has made me think. Usually, news stories about the recession tie in with whatever I’ve been hearing a lot about at work: redundancies, repossessions and repayment problems, mostly.

But while almost every CLA caller is in more debt than they’d like, and a lot are dealing with high-interest doorstep lenders like Provident (when I was little I never actually knew what the ‘Provident woman’ came to our house for every week; the answer, of course, was ‘paying for Christmas’), and in a few cases places like this, which should be illegal…I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who was in trouble with an illegal loan shark.

And thank goodness. The tales told on Newsnight by loan shark victims are even scarier than the posters I’ve seen on trains back in the Black Country, where the loan shark hotline was piloted. (I was going to put a link up to this hotline and campaign but there doesn’t seem to be a national one yet. Paxman is right, they’re not exactly courting the media on this one.) Intimidation, stalking, harassment, death-threats, actual violence and even sexual assault: surely the darkest side of the credit crunch we’ve seen yet.

So why have few or none of these people called the legal advice service the government funds? Let’s hope it’s because cases like this are so rare. But I can’t help worrying that the outdated concept of ‘debt shame’ might apply here as it barely does anywhere else. Few people these days would have any shame admitting they’re struggling with their mortgage repayments, but to admit that you are frightened for your life and that of your children because you signed up to a payday loan at 1200% interest…that’s something else.

BTW, having watched the Newsnight discussion on this, I’m not totally sure I’m happy about Chris Huhne referring to the comparative  ‘financial illiteracy’ of people at either end of the ‘social heap’. This is a phrase we use now?

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