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The Big ‘Can’t Pay’ Debt Debate

Lavinia Thompson tunes in and almost wishes she hadn't

Last night, channel-hopping whilst waiting for something (anything) to watch on my television, I chanced upon a truly awful television programme called The Big ‘Can’t Pay’ Debt Debate [Channel Five, 6.30pm]. I came to it at about 6.50pm, so witnessed only the last one-third of it.

Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express and various supposedly-porn publications – one of Private Eye’s long-time pet hate figures – paid just £103.5 million to acquire Channel Five less than four years ago. He’s currently trying to sell it, seeking bids starting at around the £700 million mark.

Nice work if you can get it.

ferrariThe Big ‘Can’t Pay’ Debt Debate was a typical cheap Channel Five offering, a cut-price attempt to imitate the BBC’s Question Time, anchored by David Dimbleby.

It was hosted by tubby radio and television presenter Nick Ferrari, who failed spectacularly in his primary task of preventing everyone talking over each other. In this he plainly wasn’t helped by the half-hour format, which seemingly allowed nobody to speak for more than 60 seconds at a time. As a result, as soon as it became their turn, almost everyone began shouting, simply in order to be heard over others seeking to interrupt or contradict them.

On the panel was self-appointed right wing rent-a-mouth, and former star of The Apprentice, Katie Hopkins. The degree to which she has become a public object of hatred and derision is possibly only exceeded by the degree to which she revels in this status.

Two notable incidents occurred during the time I caught the programme.

The first was the issue of the banks failing to lend enough, or at all.

This has been a source of regular criticism going in their direction, both from the Government – who want to see them, in the cause of pump-priming the economic recovery, helping small businesses in particular, and from ordinary people, who are just being turned away … and thence potentially into the arms of sharp ‘payday loans’ companies who then charge outrageous levels of interest.

browneDefending, or representing, the banks was Anthony Browne, head of the British Bankers Association. He is a typical example of the sort of cove that – anyone in PR or marketing would soon tell you – just shouldn’t be in that position. His demeanour was wimpish, his performance feeble.

Faced with the charge of ‘not lending’ both by members of the audience and Mr Ferrari, who repeatedly adopted the line “You got us into this mess, so why won’t you lend and help us get out of it?”, Mr Browne droned on about how mistakes were made in the past, things had tightened up now, and – if people were troubled by debt – they should go to their Citizens Advice Bureau and/or a debt counsellor.

He was routinely howled down.

What he should have said, of course, was that people must take responsibility for their own actions.

If you cannot afford something, the answer is not necessarily just to borrow and buy it anyway. Yes, the banks had got into trouble for lending money far too easily to those who couldn’t afford to repay. As a result, by their own volition – but mainly the new rules and compliance requirements imposed by government in order to ensure they didn’t lend recklessly – they were now unwilling and/or unable, even if they wished, to lend recklessly.  End of message.

In 2014 you cannot attack bankers for refusing to lend to hopeless borrowers – when, just five or six years ago, in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, you were practically hanging them from lamp posts for doing just that!

The second extraordinary contribution came from a lady sitting in the front row of the audience. After holding her hand up for ages, she was eventually given the opportunity to tell of the ‘unfair’ circumstances into which she had fallen. As a single parent, she had been struggling on her low paid job just to pay the bills anyway. Then she lost her job and went on benefits for a period, which gave her even greater financial issues.

“You got into trouble when you took out a ‘payday’ loan, didn’t you? How did that happen?” asked Nick Ferrari.

Yes, she confirmed, she had. The thing was, with Christmas coming up, she’d decided to take out one of these payday loans.

Ferrari then asked “How big was the loan you took out?”

“£1,600” she replied.

hopkinsCue a massive explosion from Katie Hopkins on the panel and a stunned gasp from the audience.

Hopkins, seething with apparent vindication, spat “You had barely have two halfpennies to rub together, and yet you went out and spent £1,600 on Christmas presents for your kids?! Nobody spends £1,600 on Christmas presents for their kids!”

Mr Ferrari asked the lady why she had spent so much. She replied that she just wished to treat her kids.

At that point, the programme credits rolled and I went to make my evening meal of mackerel pate on toast.

I must say that, even in this day and age, you live and learn.






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About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts