EXCLUSIVE: The Mirror joins actor Michael Sheen’s battle to help lenders who don’t exploit the poor – as Fair Credit For All campaign is launched
In a Salford mall, dominated by pounds and pawn shops, Hollywood star Michael Sheen hears familiar stories about the devastating impact of debt.
People whose incomes have been affected by benefit reforms and wage stagnation are feeling the shattering impact of high-interest loan repayment demands at a time of unmanageable increases in the cost of food and energy.
Michael has traveled the country to meet with those affected by payday loans, short-term loans and point-of-sale loans.
He founded the End High Cost Credit Alliance to build a stronger network of lenders who offer credit without exploiting people.
By partnering with Michael’s alliance, the Mirror is launching our Fair Credit For All campaign today.
We want to make sure those who need it most are not forced into the clutches of high interest lenders.
This comes from the fact that figures from a TUC study show that personal debt has reached its worst level on record in Britain, totaling £ 428 billion, or £ 15,400 for the average household. .
It was during one of his return visits to his native South Wales that Michael, 49, first encountered a debt crisis that was taking over.
Families were torn apart by growing debts to payday lenders like Wonga and hire-purchase companies.
“I would go back to South Wales as often as possible,” the BAFTA-nominated actor tells me. “I began to hear more and more, during these visits, from people with debt problems.
“And I started hearing about high cost loans, high cost credit, payday loans, option-to-buy rental businesses.
“People who needed help… got the most unfair deal.
“Family and close friends were starting to have debt problems.
“I started to realize how thin the line is between doing everything right and suddenly getting into real trouble. It’s not something cataclysmic that happens – it can be an unexpected bill, or something as simple as a washing machine that breaks down.
“[It] can fly away and be very difficult to exit, with related issues related to mental and physical health.
“I grew up in a community where people thought you didn’t get into debt. It is becoming inevitable now. The TUC study shows that unsecured debt – which includes credit cards and loans but not mortgages – has increased by almost half since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
A separate analysis from the Center for Responsible Credit and Jubilee Debt Campaign found that the unsecured debt-to-income ratio of the poorest fifth of families rose from 55% to 110% between 2015 and 2017.
Over a superb career including memorable performances as Tony Blair in The Queen and The Deal, Michael has never neglected his roots.
He worked in his hometown of Port Talbot for two years on and off, living there again for much of 2011. He discovered around this time that people in debt often had no choice but to use high interest lenders or turned to unsavory companies. because they mistakenly believed there was no choice.
Michael has decided to restore some balance in a heavily weighted deal in favor of lenders. The strategy of the End High Cost Credit Alliance, which he put together with his own money, is not just to get rid of the bad guys.
This would mean that those in need of quick credit might have nowhere to go.
Its umbrella organization wants to ensure that fair trade providers have the resources to support thousands of new clients.
He spoke while visiting organizations in Greater Manchester, including the Lighthouse Project, which has a variety of goals, including helping to reduce poverty.
Explaining how the End High Cost Credit Alliance is his top priority, he says, “Now the acting is to support the other work rather than the other work being a sideline and the main actor.
“I’m up front when people offer me a job. I tell them what I have to be available for. And if we can solve this problem, so much the better. If I can’t, I will have to do something else.
With it, the man described as the greatest theater actor of his generation is back on the road, to areas where debt tragedy doesn’t need a screenwriter to have a dramatic impact.
Frances O’Grady of TUC has her say
Household debt is reaching crisis levels. Years of austerity and stagnant wages have pushed millions of families into the red.
A decade of conservative austerity has cost workers dearly. Paying only the basics, like food, bills and rent, has become a battle.
The government claims it “makes work pay”. But try telling that to families who depend on payday loans or food banks.
For those driven into the red, the poverty and anxiety are bad enough, but there is danger for the whole nation. We cannot keep the UK economy growing on household debt. Eventually it will collapse.
The only foundation of our economy is wage growth. That is why we need a higher minimum wage of £ 10 an hour.
Too much wealth is accumulated at the top. Workers need more bargaining power to get their fair share. This means giving unions the freedom to enter every workplace to negotiate fair pay.
Poverty in the workplace is not inevitable. We need to rethink the economy to make it fair.
The shocking statistics
- Wages increased an average of 3.1% last year, but actual wages are still £ 11 a week lower than they were before the 2008 financial crisis.
- Many of those forced into high interest, short-term loans are unemployed, so such increases don’t mean much to them.
- Inflation reached 2.7% in August 2018.
- The cost of many basic necessities is rising faster than the rate of inflation.
- Rail fares have risen three times faster than wages since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
- Season tickets from Chelmsford, Essex, London are 13% of an average salary.
- The heat waves of the past year have pushed up the prices of basic foodstuffs.
- Goods were affected by high import costs after the pound fell due to the Brexit referendum.
- The loaf of white bread is up 8 pence from April 2016 prices.
- The University of Sussex says Brexit could cost households £ 500 more each year.
- Home energy bills increased 76% from 2006 to 2016.
- In 2017, households paid an additional £ 75 each, on average, for gas and electricity.
- No-deal Brexit could add £ 1.5 billion to UK energy bills by March 2020, University College London has predicted.
- School budget cuts mean parents are asked to help educate children.
- Universal credit will mean some low-income families will lose the right to free school meals for children, activists say.